(Reuters) – Iran condemned what it called foreign interference in the affairs of its closest Arab ally, Syria, on Tuesday and praised reforms President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to undertake as “problem-solving”.
“We are fundamentally against interfering in the affairs of other countries. We think it does not solve the problems but will only make them more complicated,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference.
Tehran has tempered its rhetoric on Syria as the crisis there has dragged on for 10 months. At first, it wholeheartedly supported Assad’s stance against public opposition, now it is encouraging reforms to take account of popular grievances.
“The good reforms which have been announced by Syrian officials are pushing the ambience towards dialogue and solving the problems, though some countries do not like this,” Mehmanparast said.
Assad has announced the end to a draconian state of emergency, granted citizenship to many Syrian Kurds and promised parliamentary elections later this year. On Sunday he issued the latest of several amnesties for those detained since the uprising began.
Syria’s opposition has dismissed Assad’s gestures as hollow, given a continued spate of killings and a lack of dialogue even after Arab League peace monitors arrived three weeks ago.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed during Assad’s 10-month-old military crackdown on popular unrest, with violence continuing despite the presence of Arab League monitors.
Qatar, the most Arab country most outspoken against Assad, has proposed sending in Arab troops to halt the bloodshed.
Non-Arab, Shi’ite Muslim Iran is closely allied with Assad’s Syria and both support militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Iran has backed “Arab Spring” uprisings that toppled several Western-allied dictators in predominantly Sunni Muslim North Africa, while maintaining support for Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
To help deter foreign intervention in Syria, Iran has used various regional cards, including fears that it could unleash militant proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas against Israeli and U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has indicated it could increase oil output to make up for Iranian crude in the event of a European Union embargo against Iranian oil [ID:nL6E8CG2PF], a stance criticised by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
“These signs and signals are not friendly and will be remembered in the history of relations between the two countries,” Salehi told Iran’s state-run Arabic language television channel al Alam.
Mehmanparast said he doubted the EU would push ahead with its oil embargo, a move Iranian OPEC Governor Mohammad Ali Khatibi said would be “economic suicide” for a bloc that is in the grip of a huge currency crisis.