Iran slams Arab League over Syria opposition seat

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran's foreign ministry on Wednesday criticised as a "dangerous precedent" the Arab League's decision to allocate Syria's long-vacant seat to the Syrian opposition.

Opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib took Syria's seat at the League on Tuesday as Arab leaders gathered in Doha for their annual summit, sparking a furious reaction from Damascus.

"Handing Syria's seat to the so-called provisional government is a dangerous precedent by the members of the Arab League," Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iranian media as telling reporters.

Mr Salehi said, without elaborating, that continuation of "such mistakes will only add to the problems".

Iran has remained a steadfast ally of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the two-year conflict that the UN says has killed more than 70,000 people.

In a separate report on the official IRNA news agency, deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said this decision to hand the seat to the opposition "is in effect the end of the (Arab) League's role in the region." He also warned that such a fate could await other members of the Arab organisation in the future.

Syria's seat had been empty since the country was suspended in November 2011 after it rejected calls to end violence against protesters and instead pressed a bloody crackdown on dissent.

Leading an opposition delegation into the Doha meeting to thunderous applause from Arab leaders, Mr Khatib demanded that the opposition also be allowed to represent Syria at the United Nations.

The summit affirmed the "right of every state to offer all forms of self-defence, including military, to support the resistance of the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army."

Syrian vice-prime minister Qadri Jamil too criticised the Arab League, telling Iran's Fars news agency that the Syrian people "are disappointed with (it) and do not recognise it".

"These opponents are stooges of foreign countries and they can never be considered as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the country," he said in an interview published on Wednesday.

The Syrian state-run daily Al-Thawra charged that "the League has handed Syria's stolen seat to bandits and thugs".

Tehran regards many Syrian opposition groups as "terrorists" being backed by Western and Arab countries, but it urges talks to form a national reconciliation committee to end the conflict.