Region | Syria

Iran support for Syria questioned at home

Diplomatsaskwhether Tehran should stick by Al Assad

  • AP
  • Published: 12:24 December 18, 2012
  • Gulf News

Dubai:Western sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear programme are cutting deeper into critical oil exports, with the US applying greater pressure on Iran’s major Asian customers to further trim purchases. Iran’s finance minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, was quoted Sunday by the economic daily Donya-e-Eqtesad as saying oil revenue had dropped 50 per cent because of sanctions, but said that shifts to non-oil exports and more aggressive tax policies have helped ease the shortfall.

In October - as the value of Iran’s currency plunged by more than 40 per cent in a week - some merchants in Tehran’s main bazaar chanted against the government’s financial aid to Al Assad’s regime.

It’s possible that Iran could even boost its money flow to Al Assad if Russia’s support weakens, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, a senior regional analyst at Maplecroft, a Britain-based risk analysis group.

“However, given the extent of Iran’s own economic problems as a result of sanctions, its ability to prop up Al Assad is likely to be limited,” he added.

Cautiously, over the months, such reality checks have emerged from Iran as rebel strength and support has grown.

During the summer, several current and former Iranian diplomats published opinion articles questioning whether Tehran should stick by Al Assad’s regime or begin to weigh alternatives. But Iran’s top envoy, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, appears to reflect the seesaw views from the country’s leadership. “Iran is caught between two political paths,” said Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Centre in Qatar. “It can’t simply cut Al Assad loose, but it can’t hang onto him at all costs. It would be foolish to think that Iran is not actively drawing up its post-Al Assad strategies.”

Salehi has urged a negotiated resolution in Syria, possibly with a deal for Al Assad to bow out with elections in 2014. On Saturday, however, he struck a hardline tone by saying Tehran “won’t allow” Al Assad to fall - without saying what measures Iran was prepared to take.

A similar two-sided declaration was echoed by Hezbollah leader Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah. On Sunday, he urged the Syrian opposition to hold talks rather than fight, but said that predictions of Al Assad’s imminent ouster were mere “wishful thinking” by his opponents in the West, Turkey and Arab world.

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