TEHRAN/WASHINGTON: Iran Thursday welcomed a U.N. peace plan aimed at ending the four-year war in its ally Syria, saying President Bashar Assad’s regime needed to be directly involved.
“This new plan is seen as a step by regional and international players toward a better understanding of the reality on the ground and on the political level,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by news agency ISNA.
“The people and government of Syria have the key role in this process,” she said.
Iran is Assad’s key regional ally, providing him with financial and military support.
On Monday the U.N. Security Council adopted a new push for peace talks in Syria, which was also endorsed by Russia, another key ally of the Damascus regime, and the other 14 member states.
The peace initiative, set to begin in September, would set up four working groups to address safety and protection, counterterrorism, political and legal issues and reconstruction.
The council demanded all sides work for an end to the war by “launching a Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” It also mentions the creation of “an inclusive transitional governing body.”
The adoption came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Iran to try to advance prospects for ending the war that has left at least 240,000 dead.
Representatives of the Syrian domestic opposition tolerated by Damascus will jet in to Moscow for talks Sunday.
The delegation – led by Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar, who hails from the opposition – is expected to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov Monday, the ministry said.
“Contacts for the settlement of the Syrian conflict are continuing,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP.
Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations Thursday to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government after airstrikes on a rebel town near the capital killed more than 100 people.
The New York-based group said the Sunday attack on Douma showed the government’s “appalling disregard for civilians.”
The series of strikes, several of which hit a crowded marketplace in the Eastern Ghouta region town, killed mostly civilians.
“This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the [U.N.] Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks,” the HRW deputy Middle East director Nadim Houry said.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Thursday that 117 people had been killed.
That was up from a previously reported figure of 96 because of people who died from injuries sustained in the strikes.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem defended the attacks in comments to an Egyptian television station published Thursday by Syria’s official news agency SANA. “It is natural for the Syrian government to use the appropriate tools to defeat terrorism,” he said.
“But many of the terrorists use civilians as human shields, so what is claimed about massacres in Douma or elsewhere is fabricated news.”
HRW noted that Douma, as well as other parts of the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, are regularly targeted in regime airstrikes that disproportionately kill civilians.
The group also criticized rebels operating in the area for firing indiscriminately at civilians in nearby government-held territory, including Damascus.
HRW said the Security Council was failing to enforce its own resolutions calling for an end to attacks on civilians and the indiscriminate use of weapons in crowded places.
It urged the U.N. to monitor such attacks, attribute responsibility for them and sanction those to blame.
“How many more lives will be lost before the Security Council enforces its own words?” Houry asked.
In Damascus, Assad replaced two Cabinet ministers, state TV said, a minor government reshuffle amid rising consumer prices and the grinding civil war.
The channel said Assad named Rima Qadiri to replace Kinda Shammat as Social Affairs Minister. Jamal Chahine was appointed Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Minister, replacing Hassane Safieh. No reason was given for the changes.
Elsewhere, the U.S. defense secretary said that Turkey should play a full part in the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS and take better control of its border with Syria. Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said Turkey had agreed in principle to join the anti-ISIS coalition but should now add its own warplanes to the “air tasking order,” the military structure coordinating strikes.
“They need to join the NATO and they need to work more on controlling their border. And we’ve made that clear,” he told reporters. “Their leadership has indicated that this needs to be done. It’s overdue, because it’s a year into the campaign, but they’re indicating some considerable effort now.”
Turkey agreed last month to step up its involvement in the war raging across its southern border in Syria and to allow U.S. planes to launch strikes from a Turkish base. But its involvement in the battle against ISIS has so far been limited and it appears to be concentrating on its recently revived war with Kurdish separatist militants.
Carter said ISIS is still able to bring fighters and supplies over the Turkish border and into Syria. “We need them also as a neighbor to this conflict zone, as a longtime NATO ally and a responsible member of the anti-ISIL coalition, to control the border,” he said, using another acronym for the group.
“I don’t think they’re dragging their feet,” Carter said, adding that allowing U.S. strikes to be launched from Turkish air fields was “important, but not enough.”