Amid all that is happening in Syria and the region, Iran remains optimistic, relying on realism and on the "pillars of religion and faith." That was the conclusion reached yesterday by some 80 Lebanese journalists from different political backgrounds invited to a luncheon at the Bir Hassan seat of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, which coincides with the birthday of Prophet Mohammad. The Iranian Ambassador, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, answered their questions.
The ambassador began on an optimistic note. He pointed out that "a diplomat studies an issue by weighing the costs and benefits and then picks the best option. And by Iranian calculations, in the Syrian arena the benefits outweigh the costs."
Then a colleague [journalist] asked for a clearer explanation. He said: "Iran supports the Syrian people's demands for reforms. And these reforms should happen under President Bashar Assad's regime. Seventy percent of the Syrian people (out of 22 million) went to the streets in support of the Syrian President. A research center in Doha said that the Syrian people are equally divided between supporters and opponents of the regime." He added, "we are for the reforms that the people want and the Syrian regime has set the dates for the constitutional amendment and the elections. So Iran still supports this regime and encourages dialogue between it and the people."
In answering one of the questions, Roknabadi strongly denied that "Iran is supplying weapons to the Syrian regime." He added, "these days, we support the Syrian regime more than ever. We support it [by taking] a strong political stance in all international meetings, in the media, and through diplomatic channels."
And on whether the Qatari-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation was a blow to Iran and the resistance axis, Roknabadi said "we don't care who leads the reconciliation. What is important is for it to happen. Last year, when the massacre on the Marmara ship happened, we were asked whether we were worried by the sight of the Turkish flag since it could replace the Iranian flag. We responded that since we have principles of which we are proud, we do not care who helps the Palestinian cause. We are glad to see any country carry the Palestinian flag, which Iran did not take away from anybody, but rather picked up off the ground."
He drew attention to the fact that "the Syrian regime stands on the side of the Palestinian cause and is one of the components of the resistance facing Israel - and that is why it is being targeted." In response to a question, the Iranian ambassador said, "are [the events] in Syria related to democracy or human rights? Are the United States’ and Israel's "hearts" now beating for the sake of democracy? Has the US Ambassador in Syria been given the mission to overthrow the regime for the purpose of setting up a democratic system? In reality, the Americans don't care at all who will be the president of Syria nor his religion, but they want him to be part of the group that protects Israel's security because Israel's security is part of US security. Today, the West's main concern is to save Israel, following the collapse of regimes such as Hosni Mubarak's in Egypt, so the West came and focused on Syria where the objective has nothing to do with human rights; there are countries that are in more need of attention in that regard."
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah
On the relationship between Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, Roknabadi said, "the Muslim Brotherhood were the first to visit Iran after the success of its revolution. It is on that basis that we have set the principle and the standard [of our relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood]. We stand on the side of all popular and national revolutions. And we stand by the side of the people, because Islam is a religion of submitting one's heart to Allah. In Syria, we ask where is the peaceful popular revolution [so that we may] support it? All we see are armed groups who cut off heads and desecrate the bodies [of the dead] for the special interests of some..."
Al-Safir asked him whether he was optimistic about Hezbollah's future should the Syrian regime fall. He said, "our hearts are relaxed. If you support Allah, Allah will support you." With regard to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to establish a "Friends of Syria" coalition he said: "France and the United States are close to presidential elections. So we cannot tell if that position is real or electoral. We don't really much care about the positions of France and the US in that regard. They have failed in the highest international body and you have all seen the visible irritation on the faces of the American representatives Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice after the Russian-Chinese veto. And you have heard Hillary Clinton's diplomatically inappropriate language when she said 'we felt disgusted' while many decisions in favor of Palestine have faced a US veto. Isn't that disgusting also?"
When asked about the issue of the five missing [Iranian] engineers, he said, "we raised the matter with the Minister of the Interior, Brigadier Marwan Charbel today [February 6] and we asked the Lebanese Government to follow up on that information and determine its accuracy. If true, the government will take the necessary action to release these Iranian engineers."
With regard to accusations that Iran is supporting the uprising in Bahrain, Roknabadi said, "we are not interfering, and when we interfere in something we are not shy [about it]. Iran did not interfere in any country that saw an uprising; not in Egypt, nor Yemen, nor Tunis, nor Libya. That was the first time that the people took to the streets on their own accord without there being nations behind them. In Bahrain, the people were inspired by what was happening in the region and the people came out for the first time. They demanded reforming the electoral law so that all parliamentary members be elected instead of 40% of them being appointed by the king. Of course, there are people who want to overthrow the regime, but that is not the demand of the opposition. What is important is that in Bahrain, the popular movement is peaceful and unarmed."