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Iran foreign minister criticizes Syria strike plan

Sep. 8, 2013 - 10:46AM   |  
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BAGHDAD — Iran’s new foreign minister on Sunday criticized possible U.S.-led strikes on Syria as outside the bounds of United Nations charter, saying the use of force is illegal.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments while visiting the Iraqi capital Baghdad. The visit, his first official trip since taking office last month, underscored the growing links between the two Shiite-led neighbors and their shared opposition to military strikes in Syria.

Responding to a reporter’s question about a possible attack on Syria, Zarif broke away from his native Farsi and spoke in English for effect.

“I do not know why those who say all options are on the table do not understand the fact that civilized countries 65 years ago ... rejected in the charter of the United Nations (the) resort to force as an illegal practice,” he said in comments clearly directed at the United States and its allies.

Iran is the main regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime also maintains strong ties to Russia. Assad’s troops are battling largely Sunni rebels who receive support from Sunni countries such as Turkey and the Gulf states.

Iraq is officially neutral in the conflict, though its Shiite leadership is worried about the threat posed by Sunni extremists, including Iraq’s al-Qaida branch, fighting among the rebels. It repeatedly has called for a negotiated political solution to the crisis.

The United States has been pressuring Iraq for months to do more to stop Iranian flights suspected of carrying weapons to Syria from transiting its airspace. Iraqi officials have carried out some spot checks of Iranian planes and say they’ve found nothing.

Zarif was met on arrival in Baghdad by his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. He also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Zarif as saying before his departure that Iran has “joint concerns with our Iraqi brothers on war-waging in the region.”

Iraq’s prime minister last week reiterated Baghdad’s opposition to foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict, warning that a military strike could have unforeseen consequences.

Zarif echoed those fears in his comments in Baghdad, saying those “who want to start a war cannot control the course of the war or end it.”

“The U.S. president has entered a trap set by others ... against his personal wishes. We hope that he would get out of this trap,” Zarif said, according to a translation of his comments into Arabic.

Iran and Iraq fought a ruinous war from 1980 to 1988. The two countries have bolstered ties considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims annually now visit Shiite holy sites in Iraq despite ongoing security risks, and Iraq is a major market for Iranian products. Iran has been increasingly cut off from the world’s financial system following multiple rounds of sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The Iraqi market offers it an important source of hard currency.

The Western-educated Zarif is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since President Hasan Rouhani came to office last month.

Rouhani is seen as more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who paid a farewell visit to Baghdad and the Iraqi Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in July. An earlier visit by Ahmadinejad in 2008 was the first by an Iranian president since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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