Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi: ‘Assad Poses No Threat to the Middle East’
Last week, the violence in Syria came close to spilling across the country’s borders and spiraling into a regional conflict. SPIEGEL spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi about his country’s continued support of Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad, NATO’s delicate role in the region and Iran’s nuclear program…
SPIEGEL: Mr. Foreign Minister, it is beginning to look as though a war could break out on NATO’s border with Syria. How dangerous is the situation in the region?
Salehi: In the name of God, the compassionate and the merciful, we have to prevent catastrophes. I call on both sides to exercise restraint. In Syria, thousands are fighting against the government of Bashar al-Assad, and they are armed with state-of-the-art weaponry. If Turkey were to massively retaliate sometime in the coming weeks or months, they would have no objections. They want to render peace initiatives impossible. They are seeking an escalation.
SPIEGEL: Are you referring to the armed Syrian opposition? Or to terrorists from the international al-Qaida network?
Salehi: I don’t intend to associate the perpetrators of violence with a specific country or a specific organization. But one thing is certain: Military forces infiltrating Syria are seeking to internationalize the conflict. If the region goes up in flames, then they have achieved their objective.
SPIEGEL: Yet it appears to have been the Syrian military that fired across the border, not the rebels or the perpetrators of violence that you are referring to. Do you condemn Turkey’s retaliatory attacks?
Salehi: Every country has the right to protect itself if it is attacked. When the Syrians shot down a Turkish fighter jet in June, though, Ankara refrained from launching a counterattack. At the time, I expressed my recognition of this to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — it was statesmanlike and wise. Now, a sense of proportionality must be retained, or we will fall into the trap of the extremists.
SPIEGEL: Since Turkey is a member of NATO, the organization is standing by its side and condemning the incident as an “aggressive act.”
Salehi: It would not be appropriate for me to give advice to the Western military alliance. But NATO cannot afford to make a mistake and worsen the situation.
SPIEGEL: Such as the establishment of a buffer zone in northern Syria and a no-fly zone for Assad’s air force?
Salehi: By doing so, the West would react just as wrongly as it did in 2011 in Libya. This was an improper interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state …