BRUSSELS, Feb 16, (Agencies): Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told European Union lawmakers on Tuesday militant Islam was also a European problem as he defended Iran’s involvement in Syria’s civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. European parliamentarians quizzed Zarif about alleged human rights violations in Iran, Iranian defence spending and nuclear activity and Tehran’s stance on Middle East conflicts that have killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes, spurring a large influx of refugees into Europe.
Radicalised European citizens, often with Muslim immigrant backgrounds, have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State militants, who claimed responsibility for the shooting and bombing rampage in Paris that killed 130 people in November. “We all need to understand why some who behead innocent individuals in our part of the world speak European languages with perfect accents. Why is it that this is happening?” Zarif told the European Parliament session. “You feel the consequences of the growth of extremism in our region in terms of refugees that come to Europe, in terms of the spread of unfortunate terrorist incidents in various European cities. Extremism cannot be contained in one country or one region, it’s a global menace, requiring a global response.” In Syria, an offensive by government forces backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-backed militias has regained significant ground from rebels in the north near Turkey’s frontier, dimming prospects that a truce deal hatched by world powers in Munich last week will take hold soon. Zarif said Tehran had no “boots on the ground” in Syria but only “military advisers” on the invitation of Assad. “We will move out military advisers when the local government deems it necessary for us to remove them,” Zarif said.
“Why is Iran there? Because Iran believes that the alternative right now — either in Iraq or in Syria — is not a democratic government but DAESH.” DAESH is a pejorative Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Washington’s UN ambassador Samantha Power said Monday that compliance with the Iran nuclear deal was so far “strong”, but warned Tehran was still helping fuel conflict and remained a threat. “What this deal does if implemented — and so far the implementation has been strong but it’s very early days — is it cuts off the pathways to a nuclear weapon and it gives us much more visibility into Iran’s programme than we had before,”
Power told students during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. She added later that “Iran of course is still a threat. Iran is supporting terrorism. Iran is supporting parties to conflict like the Assad regime (in Syria)”. Last July’s Vienna agreement between Iran and the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 plus one) sees sanctions lifted in return for Tehran ensuring its nuclear programme remains for civilian use. Israel strongly opposed the deal with its arch-foe, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning it would not block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. He also said lifting sanctions would allow Iran to further back proxy militants in the region, including Israeli enemies such as Hezbollah.