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Iran opens low-level Syria forum

Delegates from Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela attend Iranian meeting aimed at ending Syria crisis – despite absence of Syrian representation

AFP , Wednesday 29 May 2013
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Iran on Wednesday opened a forum aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis in Syria attended by delegates from around 40 countries but without any Syrian representation.

The meeting comes as the United States and Russia prepare to host a conference in Geneva next month aimed at getting representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and of rebel groups to discuss ways to end fighting that has claimed some 94,000 lives.

Among those attending the Tehran conference were delegates from Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Uganda.

However neither the Syrian government nor political and armed groups opposed to it were represented. No official reason was given.

Iran, Assad's main regional ally, regards armed Syrian opposition groups as "terrorists" backed by Western and Arab countries.

"For a political solution ... all violence and conflicts must end immediately," Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in opening the forum.

"What is important is ... that ending the crisis is possible through a political solution based on negotiations and not a military approach."

He also called on supporters of rebels, without naming any country, to "stop sending weapons into Syria."

The Islamic republic is itself accused by Western and Arab countries of supplying weapons and sending forces to the Syrian military. Iran denies these charges.

Tehran had already hosted a meeting between Syrian government officials and representatives of opposition parties tolerated by Assad's regime in mid-November 2012.

On Wednesday, Salehi said without elaborating that Iran supports the "negotiations in Geneva."

Despite Russian insistence that Iran be invited to the talks in Geneva, France opposes any participation by the Islamic republic for its unwavering support of Assad.

Addressing the Tehran forum, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said his country welcomed the talks in Geneva.

"We hope it will bear results," he said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, also in Tehran for the conference, said Baghdad backed the so-called "Geneva 2" meeting and called for a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis.

"Iraq backs the Geneva 2 meeting as it has previously backed Arab League and UN initiatives," he said.

"Iraq urges a ceasefire to halt the violence and is against any kind of foreign intervention."

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