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Bashar Assad

Bashar Assad

With Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria gradually (or appearing to be) losing its grip on power, Iran – sensing the precarious position of its key ally – has come to the rescue in the most unequivocal terms, with Tehran’s diplomatic efforts moving into high gear.

Earlier this month, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and other regional leaders during an “emergency” gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca to discuss the Syrian issue before Iran hosted the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit now underway.

At the summit, Tehran is testing its ability to attract the Global South’s support for a political resolution of the Syrian crisis, while shoring up international solidarity for its own (peaceful) nuclear program.

Earlier this month, it dispatched a senior envoy – no less than the country’s chief nuclear negotiator (and a potential presidential candidate in 2013), Saeed Jalili, to Damascus. As the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, he directly represents the interest of Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on Iran’s foreign and nuclear policy.

Jalili’s talks in Damascus were followed by the envoy’s visit to Iran’s main Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah, in Lebanon to shore up regionwide support for Damascus and consolidate the so-called “axis of resistance” under Tehran’s strategic guidance.

Iran then sent the head of the National Security Commission, Alaedin Boroujerdi, to meet Assad and his deputy, Farouq Al-Sharaa. Incidentally, Al-Sharra was the guy accused by the opposition as defecting from the regime, so the Iran’s security chief’s visit not only buttressed Tehran support for the embattled Arab regime; it also provided a high-profile pretext for the regime to deny the vice president’s defection. Al-Sharaa made a public appearance on Tuesday, quashing the rumors.

The Iranian foreign ministry also joined the fray, with Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian stating during a meeting with Lebanon’s leader, Najib Mikati: “We are absolutely sure that Syria will get out of the current crisis with its head held high and will remain in the resistance front against the Zionist regime [of Israel].”

To make clear that Iran still believes in the viability of the Syrian regime, he reiterated Iran’s confidence in the prospective success of Assad’s purported “reforms” to appease the opposition and put a lid on the ongoing violence. Iran is simply encouraging the Lebanese leadership to stay away from any Western-Arab push for direct intervention and – together with Iraq – alleviate Syria’s isolation within the immediate neighborhood.

However, with Syria’s expulsion from the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Iran’s ultimate diplomatic support for Syria has come as it hosts the 16th NAM Summit, which has brought together more than 120 member countries, 17 observer nations, more than 30 state leaders, with no less than UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon participating in the proceedings – despite tremendous Israeli and American opposition.

With Syria losing diplomatic representation in almost all Arab countries, suspended from the Arab League, being censured by the UN General Assembly for the ongoing violence, and suffering from high-profile diplomatic defections to key states such as Britain, the NAM is providing Syria a much-needed diplomatic breathing space. Thus, Iran is allowing Syria to enjoy a measure of international life – essential to the external sovereignty of any regime.Asia Times