BEIRUT – Syria’s closest ally, Iran, warned Saturday that a power vacuum in Damascus could spark an unprecedented regional crisis while urging President Bashar Assad to listen to some of his people’s “legitimate demands.” Thousands of protesters, meanwhile, insisted they will defy tanks and bullets until Assad goes.
The 5-month-old uprising in Syria has left Assad with few international allies – with the vital exception of Iran, which the U.S. and other nations say is helping drive the deadly crackdown on dissent.
Saturday’s comments by Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi were a subtle shift in tone toward compromise by Tehran, which encouraged the Assad regime to answer to its people while reiterating its support for its key ally. Most previous comments focused on a “foreign conspiracy” driving the unrest.
“Either in Yemen, Syria or any other country, people have some legitimate demands and governments should answer them as soon as possible,” Salehi said Saturday, according to the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
But Iran’s support for Assad was clear.
“If a vacuum is created in the Syrian ruling system, it will have unprecedented repercussions,” he said, adding that Syria has “sensitive neighbors” and that change in the country could lead to regional crisis.
Syria borders five other nations and controls water supplies to Iraq, Jordan and parts of Israel.