Syria must oust terrorists who kill for watching TV: Iran's President Rouhani

Syria must oust terrorists who kill for watching TV: Iran's President Rouhani

Ertuğrul Özkök DAVOS – Hürriyet
Syria must oust terrorists who kill for watching TV: Irans President Rouhani

Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök (L) talks with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of Davos meeting in Switzerland.

Terrorists who kill people “for merely watching television” should immediately be ousted from Syria, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told reporters on the sidelines of the Davos meeting Jan. 23 in a clear reference to jihadists and al-Qaeda-linked group fighting in the war-torn country.

“Some are beheading people for merely not having a beard or watching television. Who can live with such radical and obscure terrorists? We should first talk about how we can oust them from Syria. Because they don’t pose a problem only for Syria, but also for many countries in the world,” Rouhani said, as a U.N.-led peace conference was ongoing in Montreux within an earshot of the Swiss resort hosting the annual economic forum.

Iran was eventually sidelined from the much-awaited talks after the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to Tehran triggered a major ultimatum from the Syrian opposition, which only confirmed its attendance after it was withdrawn in a last-minute decision.

With rhetoric similar with Damascus, Rouhani said the terrorism issue was more urgent and important than Syrian President al-Assad’s fate, adding any other approach would be a “strategic mistake.”

“They ask what I think about a solution without al-Assad. My answer is: You are asking about a strategic mistake. There is a much important threat that needs to be solved before starting to talk about the transitional period. We all have to think first about how we can take terrorism out of Syria,” Rouhani said, emphasizing the task predominantly rested on the Syrian Army’s shoulders.

Call for ‘free elections’

“I’m asking you: Who is going to oust these [terrorists] from Syria? Won’t it be the Syrian government and army? Let’s first drive terrorism out of Syria. There is no other power than them that can do this. Then, we can talk about who is going to stay [in power] and who is going to go,” Rouhani said.

“The people will choose whoever they want. For us, every [option] is possible,” he said on the probability of a regime change in Syria, urging the organization of free elections. He said Tehran was prepared to endeavor for a solution.

“Even though we are not attending the Syria talks in [Montreux], we will continue to work to prevent more people from dying in Syria. A permanent solution can also be achieved through negotiations, which should be followed by free elections,” Rouhani said.

No ‘hidden secrets’ in nuclear talks

Commenting on his country’s controversial nuclear program, Rouhani said Tehran had nothing to hide from international observes.

“We are not hiding anything regarding our nuclear [program]. Our door is open to everyone. What we are doing is being monitored by cameras,” acknowledging the international community had a right to know about their activities.

“We want to prove to the whole world our activities have peaceful goals,” he said.

His statement comes a few days after Iran halted the production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which marked the coming into force of a landmark interim deal struck with world powers.

 The U.N. atomic watchdog confirmed Iran’s partial nuclear freeze, as fresh talks over a long-term agreement are due to start in the coming months.

Rouhani said trust was the core issue regarding their nuclear program, particularly in the view of the relations between Washington and Tehran, not dismissing to cooperate on terrorism in the future.

“Two points are important for our relations with the U.S. One: Reaching a deal over the nuclear issue. But, in my opinion, what’s more important is to establish a climate of trust between us. If we can achieve this psychology, we can do things much more important. We could cooperate on terrorism,” he said.

Rouhani also emphasized Iran was “the most stable country” in the Middle East, in the light of current unrest in Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

Contrasts on Syria will not impact ties with Turkey

Rouhani also said Tehran’s diametrically opposed stance over Syria with Ankara does not impact the ties between the two countries. “The fact that we share different opinions is not an obstacle to talk about Syria. Our relations with Turkey are improving,” he said ahead of an upcoming visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Tehran. “Our foreign ministers have met. I expect to speak about every issue open-heartedly with Mr. Erdoğan,” Rouhani said.