Hassan Rouhani says Iraqi government must be consulted about bombing raids on militants.
– by Julian Borger, The Guardian
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, gave qualified support to western military action against Isis inside Iraq, saying a concerted campaign could be successful as long as it was requested by the Iraqi government.
Speaking to journalists in New York while attending the UN general assembly, Rouhani appeared to draw a sharp distinction between Syria, where the Assad regime had not been informed of US air strikes, let alone asking for them; and Iraq, where the new government has formally called for military assistance.
He criticised western states for responding late to Iraq’s call for help, claiming Iran had been the first to come to its defence and helped prevent Irbil and Baghdad falling to Isis. He also questioned the value of relying on aerial power alone.
But when asked whether western military intervention would be welcome under any conditions, the Iranian president said: “Whatever steps they take, the legitimate sovereign government of the country must be informed and give its genuine consent.
“We must support any government that requests assistance,” Rouhani said. “The request must come from Iraq. If the sovereignty of the Iraqi government is made central, the campaign can be successful.”
The president bristled at being asked whether Iran would assist a western military campaign, saying the question should be posed the other way round: would the West help Iran.
“We’ve actually been the ones countering terrorism in the region for years,” he said. “Had it not been for Iran’s timely assistance, many of the Iraqi cities would have fallen to the hands of these vicious terrorists.”
Rouhani added that the time “wasn’t right” for another phone conversation or a meeting with US president Barack Obama “because of the sensitivity that still exists between the two countries”, Associated Press reported.
One year ago, Obama and Rouhani spoke by telephone for 15 minutes after the Iranian leader’s first appearance at the UN general assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders.
It was the first time the presidents of the United States and Iran had talked directly since the 1979 Iranian revolution and siege of the American embassy. The conversation was hailed as an historic breakthrough.
But Rouhani, questioned about a repeat conversation at a news conference on Friday before heading home after this year’s ministerial meeting, said: “Not a meeting nor a telephone call had been included in the agenda nor been planned for, … nor intended to be a part of our visit this year.”
Rouhani said there must be substantive reasons with “high objectives” for conversations between world leaders. If not, he said, “telephone calls are somewhat meaningless”.
The Iranian president said the time is not ripe as there still is too much sensitivity between the two countries.
A phone conversation between the two leaders “would only be constructive and fruitful when it is done according to a precisely laid plan with precisely clearly stated objectives,” Rouhani said. “Otherwise it will never be constructive or effective.”
An important first step would be for Iran and six major powers including the United States to reach agreement on the country’s disputed nuclear program.
He said progress so far “has not been significant,” and the pace must be speeded up if the 24 November deadline for a final agreement is to be reached.