DAVOS, Switzerland: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Friday denied his country had sent Hezbollah fighters to fight in Syria, saying the Tehran-backed Shiite group was making its own decisions.
The usually smiling Iranian diplomat, who has been seen as the new face of Tehran since coming to office in August, was unusually combative in a tense panel session held in the Swiss mountain town of Davos.
Under constant questioning about Iran’s role in shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad, Zarif said it was “preposterous” to suggest that Tehran was supporting extremist groups fighting in Syria.
“We are not sending people, Hezbollah has made its own decision,” Zarif told the audience.
Asked if he would call for Lebanon’s Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria, he added: “What I can ask is for all foreign elements to leave Syria and for the Syrian people to decide their own future.
“To stop funneling funds and money and arms into Syria and to allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny ... hopefully in Geneva, although we were not invited. But we are hoping that Geneva can produce results, because we are in the region, we will be affected by any disaster coming out of the region.”
On another panel, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief, called for a U.N. resolution to pull “Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite militia” out of the country.
“I want the Americans to go to the Security Council and get a resolution that forces should be deployed to stop the fighting in Syria,” he said. “If that is not available, then at least a humanitarian corridor to allow people not to starve.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed the main Sunni Muslim opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army with weapons, training, money and military intelligence in the fight against Assad’s government. Iran, meanwhile, has been one of Assad’s biggest supporters.
Prince Turki said Iraqi militia and Hezbollah fighters outnumbered radical Sunni militants on the ground.
“I’m not saying Sunnis should go fight,” he said. “You have to get these [Shiite] people out. The only way to do it is by a concerted international effort led by the United States and supported by the U.S. allies to force these people to stop the fighting.”
Asked whether Saudi Arabia had been blindsided, Prince Turki said: “Absolutely. On the Syria issue among other things, the [U.S.] policy hasn’t been clear and definitely the actions have not been clear either.
This disturbs America’s allies because we’ve grown to depend on America.”