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Syrian FM Says No Iranian Intervention, Blasts Europe

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem speaks during a news conference in Damascus, June 22, 2011

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem speaks during a news conference in Damascus, June 22, 2011

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told a news conference Wednesday that Syria is not receiving any help from Iran in its continuing crackdown on dissidents. He also blasted Europe, insisting that Syria plans to "forget Europe is on the map" as the European Union tightened sanctions against Damascus.

The veteran Syrian foreign minister repeated his government’s claim of an “outside plot” against Damascus. He insisted that European nations are spearheading the effort by ignoring a speech by President Bashar al-Assad this week that Western observers say failed to put forth meaningful reforms.

Moallem says European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg Monday commented on the speech without having listened to it. That, he argues, proves that there’s a plot to sow chaos and strife in Syria.

The Syrian foreign minister also slammed European Union sanctions, which were expanded on Wednesday, saying that Damascus has decided to turn its back to Europe. He said Syria has decided to freeze ties with Europe.

Moallem appealed to Turkey to reconsider its recent criticism of Damascus, saying that the neighbors “share a long common border” and have longstanding ties. Ankara has asked Syria's government to stop repression of its people as Turkey deals with a growing tide of Syrian refugees.

Moallem added that Syria has not received military help in its crackdown from Iran or its proxy ally in Lebanon, the Hezbollah.

He acknowledged, however, that Damascus receives political support from Iran and Hezbollah.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, echoed analysts' views and Western intelligence information that Syria has received military help from Lebanon’s Hezbollah:

“Last month there was a minibus near Homs that was attacked and there were 10 people on board," said Khashan. "These people who were killed turned out to be Hezbollah fighters who were sent there to help the regime.”

Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in California, sees little doubt that Hezbollah and Iran are helping Syria. He casts Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as meddling in Syria.

“Hezbollah is in Syria. Hezbollah units are in Syria, and it’s the biggest mistake that Nasrallah will render his people, to get the Shia of Lebanon involved in a fight in Syria between really the Alawi-based regime and the large Sunni majority," said Ajami. "This is a fight for Syria, among Syrians.”

Both analysts say the Syrian regime can hold its own without help from Iran or Hezbollah. They say Syria seems intent, though, in turning its internal crackdown into a regional issue pitting pan-Arab interests against Western economic and political intervention.