An Iranian Leader Floating Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus as Alternatives
The venue for the nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers is now suddenly in doubt. The US had announced earlier that the P5+1 have proposed to Iran the dates of 13 and 14 April and Istanbul as the venue. The Iranians seemed ready to accept the proposal. Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had said last week that Istanbul would be “the best option.” But today, Mohsen Rezaie, the former IRGC commander and the publisher of the influential news site Tabnak, said accepting Istanbul as the venue would be construed as Iran’s weakness.
"Given the fact that our friends in Turkey have failed to fulfill some of our agreements, the talks had better be held in another friendly country," said Rezaie. "Offering Istanbul as the venue for the upcoming talks might give this wrong impression to the opposite side that Iran has grown weak and is in weak conditions," he added [Fars News Agency, 3 April].
Rezaie, a leading figure in traditional conservative circles in the country, instead is floating the idea of Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus as alternatives to Istanbul.
Once-warm Iranian-Turkish ties have cooled and the Iranian establishment is quite angry at Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan for his leading role in opposing Assad’s regime in Syria. Iran is a steadfast supporter of the Syrian government. Hosting the meeting of the “Friends of Syria,” a group of more than 70 nations including Turkey, the US and a number of Arab countries, in Istanbul this week seemed to be the tipping point for Iran. In the past couple of days, a number of harsh comments by Iranian officials against Erdogan and his government’s policy vis-à-vis Syria have been appearing in the Iranian press, and now Rezaie’s call to boycott Istanbul.
Ironically, Erdogan has always been a strong supporter of Iran’s nuclear program and visited Iran last week and met with the country’s supreme leader and stressed the value of relations with Iran. And Turkey has been and remains a key importer of Iranian oil notwithstanding the existing sanctions. But Syria is rapidly becoming the hot button in Iran, even trumping the nuclear and sanctions issues.