Reuters Reports: Iran called on staunch ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Sunday to hold free elections and allow multiple political parties to operate in the country, but said he must be given time to implement these reforms.
Iran had at first wholeheartedly supported Assad’s hardline stance against the 10 months of popular protests that have called for an end to his leadership.
It has since tempered its rhetoric as the uprising has dragged on and international pressure has risen, although it condemns what it calls foreign interference in Syrian affairs.
“They have to have a free election, they have to have the right constitution, they have to allow different political parties to have their activities freely in the country. And this is what he has promised,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said at a news conference on the sidelines of an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“We think that Syria has to be given the choice of time so that by (that) time they can do the reforms,” said Salehi, whose country is an observer state at the AU and has said that strengthening ties with the AU is a foreign policy priority.
Syria has said it will hold a referendum on a new constitution soon, before a multi-party parliamentary election that has been much postponed. Under the present constitution, Assad’s Baath party is designated as “the leader of the state and society.”
The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in the protests and crackdown. Syria says militants have killed more than 2,000 security force members.