TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani met with the former United Nations secretary-general and his delegation of “The Elders” Tuesday, calling for unity in trying to end the Syrian civil war.
Kofi Annan is in Tehran with former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu and Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo as part of the group convened by the late Nelson Mandela. They met Tuesday with Rouhani, who spoke afterward with journalists.
“We should get united for ending war and massacre in Syria,” Rouhani said in remarks reported by the semi-official ISNA news agency. “Stopping both support and deployment of arms to terrorist groups by some regional countries is the most important step.”
Shiite regional powerhouse Iran is a major backer of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his battle against largely Sunni rebel forces.
Rouhani also assured Annan’s delegation that Iran’s contested nuclear program won’t be used militarily.
“All our activities have been peaceful and will remain peaceful,” Rouhani said. “Iran does not need anything more than its rights based on [the] Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Meanwhile Tuesday, state television reported that a team of inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency had arrived in Iran to visit the southwestern Gachin uranium mine Wednesday as part of a cooperation pact meant to help allay international concern about the nuclear program.
Wednesday’s planned inspection of the Gchine mine in southern Iran will be the first by the International Atomic Energy Agency at this site since 2005.
Allowing the U.N. nuclear agency – which is investigating allegations that Iran has carried out atomic bomb research – to go to Gchine was among six concrete steps Iran agreed to under the Nov. 11 agreement with the IAEA.
“The inspectors have arrived in Tehran to make a visit to Gchine mine,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
The IAEA was not immediately available for a comment. Its director-general said last week that the Gchine visit would take place “in coming days.”
The IAEA-Iran deal is separate from a Nov. 24 breakthrough accord between Iran and six world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions that have battered its economy. That agreement took effect on Jan. 20.
But both accords signaled a rapid improvement in Iran’s troubled ties with the outside world, made possible by the election as president of Rouhani, a relative moderate, on a platform of ending Tehran’s international isolation.
Iran has moved quickly since Rouhani took office in August to improve relation with the West following years of confrontation under his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As the first step to be implemented under the Iran-IAEA deal, U.N. inspectors went to the Arak heavy-water production facility in December, a plant that is linked to a nearby reactor under construction that the West fears could yield plutonium for nuclear bombs once operational.
The other measures concerned provision of information about nuclear facilities Iran has said it plans to build.
Nonetheless, Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday that arch foe Israel is using the issue of Tehran’s nuclear program to distract from its “crimes” against the Palestinians.
“Under the pretext of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy [program], the Zionists have always tried to distract governments and nations’ public opinion from their own crimes in Palestine,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
He made the remarks during a rare visit to Iran by Jibril Rajub, a senior official in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which is currently engaged in U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel.
Israel, the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, views Iran’s atomic program as its greatest threat and, like the U.S., has not ruled out military action to halt or slow Iran’s nuclear drive.