Iran backs Annan’s Syria peace plan

Iran backs a U.N.-sponsored peace plan for Syria that calls for the withdrawal of troops that are crushing an uprising but does not demand the removal of Tehran ally President Bashar al-Assad, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Iran backed popular uprisings that removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen but has steadfastly supported Syria, a rare ally in the Arab world which is largely suspicious of Tehran’s ambitions for greater regional influence.

“Syria issue should be dealt with patiently,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Salehi as saying, warning that “any hasty approach to the Syrian issue and the creation of a power vacuum in that country could have very damaging consequences for the region.”

He added that Annan would travel to Iran on Monday or Tuesday next week.

Salehi was talking on the sidelines of a meeting with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who has called for Assad to step down.

Turkey hosted a conference of Syrian dissidents on Tuesday and will host a “Friends of Syria” meeting of mostly Western and Arab countries on Sunday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has praised the Syrian leadership’s handling of the year-long uprising in which thousands have died, saying Tehran would do everything it could to support its closest Arab ally.

Tehran has tempered its rhetoric since anti-government demonstrations began in March last year, from wholeheartedly supporting Assad to encouraging him to pursue social and political reforms to take account of popular grievances.

Ahmadinejad accused the West of plotting with Arab countries to overthrow the Syrian leadership and bolster the status of Israel in the region.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy