Iran Denies Syrian Troop Presence as Kerry Warns Iraq on Aid

Iran denied it has a military presence in Syria after John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, signaled that Iraq should block supplies to the government of Bashar al-Assad or risk restrictions on U.S. aid.

While Iran has some military-related personnel in Syria and Lebanon, this is comparable to the “military-related personnel of other countries present in our country,” Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, countries can station some military personnel at diplomatic missions.

Kerry told a Senate nomination hearing for the proposed U.S. ambassador to Baghdad yesterday that he was alarmed Iraq had not responded to repeated U.S. requests to block Iranian aid to Assad. Iraq is situated between the two countries.

“Maybe we should make some of our assistance or some of our support contingent on some kind of appropriate response,” the former U.S. Democratic presidential candidate said. “It just seems completely inappropriate that we’re trying to help build their democracy, support them, put American lives on the line, money into the country and they’re working against our interest so overtly -- against their interests too.”

Closest Ally

Iran is Assad’s closest ally and the two countries are linked by a 2006 military cooperation agreement. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month accused Iran of training a new militia force drawn from the minority Shiite and Alawite communities to bolster Assad’s government in its 18-month civil conflict.

Kerry yesterday referred to remarks from Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which he characterized as acknowledging “that Iran is providing assistance and training to groups inside Syria.”

Jafari was reported by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. on Sept. 16 as saying his men “provide economic support” in Syria short of a military presence. The next day, Lebanon asked Iran for an official explanation of Jafari’s suggestion that his men were also in that country.

Iraq has told the U.S. it won’t allow anyone to use its territory or airspace for weapons shipments and that it closely examines cargo manifests to ensure this, Robert Beecroft, the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador in Iraq, told the Senate hearing.

‘Face Value’

“They’re taking the manifests at face value,” he said. “We’re pressing them to have the aircraft -- either disapprove the flights or have them land and be inspected which is their right to do.”

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 110 people were killed or wounded after government aircraft attacked a petrol station in Reqqa. At least 73 people have been killed elsewhere so far today, 26 of them in Homs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria said.

Syrian state television today reported that a helicopter crashed near the capital Damascus. The U.K.-based Observatory said the aircraft was downed by the rebels, while Syria’s Information Ministry said it came down after its rotors brushed the tail of a Syrian Air plane carrying 200 passengers, state television reported. It said the plane landed in Damascus safely.

More than 26,000 have died since the conflict began, according to the Observatory’s estimates.

Assad’s sister Bushra, whose husband Assef Shawkat was killed in a July bomb explosion, is moving to Abu Dhabi to ensure her children are educated in a “secure atmosphere,” the pro-Syrian al-Diyar newspaper said today, without saying where it got the information.

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