10242014Fri

Iran urges election as step to halt Syria conflict

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran is backing presidential elections in Syria as part of a six-point plan outlined Sunday to halt the 21-month civil war in Tehran's main Middle East ally.

The plan, described by state media and Iranian news agencies, also calls for efforts to halt the flow of weapons into Syria and to hold talks that include the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Iran in the past has offered initiatives to end the Syrian bloodshed, but none are likely to gain any momentum with the main rebel forces that view Tehran as discredited by its close ties to Assad. On Saturday, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would do all it could to keep Assad in power.

The latest proposals were offered during the opening of a two-day conference that includes 200 Syrian religious and political figures and envoys from countries including Syrian neighbors Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, according to the semioffical Fars news agency. Key Syrian rebel figures did not attend.

Fars said the plan included efforts to halt the flow of arms into Syria, an apparent reference to rebel backing by rival nations, including Turkey and Gulf Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Iran also is believed to supply Assad's military with assistance.

Later steps include a creating a transitional government to lead Syria toward parliamentary and presidential elections. The reports gave no indication whether Assad could seek to remain in power under the Iran-backed plan.

In the statement, Iran also called for release of political prisoners and reconstruction of areas damaged in the fighting.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on the Syrian rebel forces to end the uprising and hold talks with Assad — a move that's been soundly rejected by opposition leaders.

"If the opposition forces in Syria give up their weapons, then the government can be demanded to listen to the opposition views and allow them to express their views," Khamenei said last week, according to Fars.

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