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Iran Walking Fine Line on Syria

Iran Walking Fine Line on Syria
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Iran is wording responses to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons very carefully, although its rhetoric towards the international community remains tough. And, as the West mulls military action against Iran's ally, the new government in Tehran is caught between old allegiances and pressures to forge better ties with the West.

The images of suffering after the alleged chemical weapon attack - called appalling and abhorrent by many in the West - at first drew a muted reaction from new Iranian President Hassan Rohani who, without blaming the Syrian government, issued a general condemnation of chemical weapons use.

Former Radio Farda military correspondent Hussein Aryan says Rouhani had no choice.

"Not doing that, it would devaluate the credibility of a president who has taken over and seems or says that he is going to have a moderate approach in terms of international relations,” he said.

The escalating crisis in Syria may well test Iran's intent to improve ties with the West and the United States.

With the election of President Rohani, came a Western-friendly foreign minister, and Tehran has softened some of its rhetoric over its controversial nuclear program as it looks to get sanctions that have battered its economy lifted.

Still, as Western calls for military action against the Syrian government increase, Iran's defense of Syria has also strengthened.

Steven Heydemann at the United States Institute of Peace says that's because Tehran has much to lose.

“Iran for much of the period since the Syrian uprising began has been the most important ally of the Assad regime and has really thrown itself wholeheartedly into ensuring the regime’s survival,” he said.

Part of that is Iran's use of the militant group Hezbollah, whose leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed to fight in Syria himself if the need arises.

Michael Rubin at American Enterprise Institute said, "Hezbollah, of course, is going to perhaps act as a proxy of Iran in all of this, though we've seen in recent weeks that Hezbollah has become much weaker than it has been in the past."

Iran's influence also extends to Iraq, where Shi'ite communities have sent militants to fight and die defending the Syrian regime.

In Syrian refugee camps anger against Iran is building. One refugee in a camp in Jordan says Iran and Hezbollah are also to blame for the chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus.

For now, Iran remains resolute. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is warning that American intervention in Syria would be a disaster.

As war in Syria rages, Iran's focus seems set on carefully preserving its sphere of influence.