Monday 19 March 2018

Eliminate Isil and reforms can follow - Rouhani

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani

Andres Le Croix Tehran

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani has warned that the Syrian government must be allowed to remain in power to prevent Isil from taking over the country.

Mr Rouhani, in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting, argued that the priority must be combating Isil extremists in Syria, and that "political reforms" could follow.

"If we are to succeed in fighting terrorism, the government in Damascus cannot be weakened. It must be able to carry on the fight," Mr Rouhani told a gathering of academics and journalists.

"If the Syrian government is taken out of the equation, the terrorists will enter Damascus" and "the whole country will become controlled territory, a safe haven for terrorists," he said.

The Iranian leader did not specifically address President Bashar al-Assad's fate, even though he made clear that regime change must take place after the stepped-up campaign to defeat Isil jihadists.

Mr Rouhani's remarks came amid intense diplomacy over the way forward to end the four-year war in Syria that has left more than 240,000 dead and sent thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Russia strengthened its hand in shaping Syria's post-war future when it sent troops and fighter planes to help in the battle to defeat Isil.

Mr Rouhani said Iran and Russia had an "almost a compatible mindset" on Syria because Moscow has "the same goal of fighting and defeating terrorism."

After meeting with French president François Hollande, Mr Rouhani said there had been a shift in the West which was "up to a certain level" dropping its insistence that Assad must go. "That opinion no longer has many fans in the West," he said.

Mr Rouhani also argued that the fight against Isil cannot be won with an air campaign.

Irish Independent

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