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Iran Denies Role in Syria Crackdown

Protesters burn an Iranian flag during a protest organized by Lebanese and Syrians living in Lebanon, to express solidarity with Syria's anti-government protesters, as they march in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. The protesters are opposed to Iran, which has

Iran's government has denied allegations it is playing a role in Syria's bloody crackdown on political opposition. But reports in the international press continue to contend that Iran is helping Syria militarily.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said again Monday that Tehran is “not intervening” to help Syria's government repress its people. He described as "baseless," allegations from the European Union that the Quds Brigade of Iran's Revolutionary Guards is involved in the Syrian crackdown.

During a news conference last week, Mehmanparast urged other countries “not to intervene in Syria's internal political crisis.”

Reports in the Arab and international press have accused both Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, of helping Syrian authorities deal with the popular uprising.

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, now an exiled opponent of Iran's government, is among those who say Iran and Hezbollah are helping Syria in the crackdown.

He says the Iranian regime is helping Syria in every possible way. He says he has information that 3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards and 2,200 Hezbollah fighters are working with the Syrian government. But he contends that Saudi Arabia is also intervening in Syria - on the opposition side.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, says Iran is in fact starting to distance itself from the Syrian regime, anticipating that it may fall. He notes that Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, urged Syria last week to address its people's “legitimate demands.”

“The fact that the Iranians are beginning to talk to the Syrians and telling the regime to accommodate the 'legitimate demands of the Syrian people' means that they are concluding that the regime in Damascus is unsalvageable. In the long run, the regime will collapse,” he said.

Khashan also says Iran has been trying to mend fences with the Gulf Arab states, perhaps as a prelude to a policy shift on Syria. He notes that Iran's foreign minister met with the leader of Qatar last week to discuss developments in Syria.

“The Iranians are trying to find alternatives and that's why the Iranians are trying also to mend fences with the countries of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. A few days ago, the Emir of Qatar visited Tehran and the visit had to do with the beginning of the careful shift of the Iranian position vis-a-vis Syria,” Khashan stated.

Khashan says both Iran and neighboring Turkey are major regional power brokers, and that each country is working to change its policy toward Syria, slowly. He says it's impossible for them to change their policy 180 degrees overnight, but that "they are preparing for it.”