Iran has criticised the Arab League for allowing an opposition leader to fill Syria’s vacant seat at the organisation’s annual summit and described it as “dangerous behaviour”.
With Syrian membership to the 22-member league suspended in November 2011, the seat at Tuesday’s summit was filled by Moaz al-Khatib, the leading figure among Syria’s opposition coalition that is battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
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“Assigning Syria’s seat to the Arab League to those who don’t have the backing of the people establishes a pattern of dangerous behaviour for the Arab world that can set a new precedent for other members of the Arab League in the future,” said deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdullahian, Iran’s student news agency (ISNA) reported on Tuesday.
“These actions will bring an end to the organisation’s role in the region,” he said.
Shia Iran has given crucial backing to Assad since the protests erupted in Syria in 2011.
Tehran regards him as key in the axis of resistance against Israel and a bulwark against what it says are extremist Sunni groups operating in Syria.
Iran has proposed a six-point plan for Syria and emphasised the importance of elections and reforms, but does not accept the removal of Assad, saying a solution to the crisis cannot be imposed from outside the country.
At the summit in Doha, the Qatari capital, Khatib demanded that the opposition be allowed to also represent Syria at the United Nations.
‘Only Syrians decide’
Taking the seat at the invitation of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Khatib was flanked by other senior opposition figures, including newly elected opposition prime minister Ghassan Hitto.
“We demand… all forms of support from our friends and brothers including our full right for self-defence,” Khatib said.
He called for a “freezing of the funds of the regime which it stole from our people”, estimated by the opposition at around $2bn.
He also stressed that the Syrian people alone would determine the future of their country.
“They ask who will rule Syria. The people of Syria will decide, not any other state in this world,” Khatib said in an apparent allusion to the influence of summit host Qatar and its heavyweight neighbour Saudi Arabia over the opposition.
The summit endorsed the provision of military aid to Syrian rebels.
A communique affirmed member states had a right to offer assistance “including military, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army”.
However, “efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis are a priority,” it added.
Khatib asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for American forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles based in Turkey.
NATO swiftly rebuffed the idea.