Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on December 22, 2013 in Tehran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on December 22, 2013 in Tehran © Atta Kenare - AFP/File
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on December 22, 2013 in Tehran
AFP
Last updated: February 4, 2014

Iran FM "no authority" to talk to Kerry about Syria

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has revealed he has "no authority" to discuss the war in Syria with US Secretary of State John Kerry, tacitly acknowledging the regime's tight grip despite overtures to the West.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday the admission had come during weekend talks in Munich on Iran's nuclear program.

After three decades of shunning most high-level contacts, Washington and Tehran have broken the ice in recent months as new Iranian leaders have sought to ease crippling economic sanctions imposed amid suspicions they are planning to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Kerry and Zarif met Sunday on the sidelines of a Munich security conference to discuss the next talks between Iran and global powers, which open on February 18 aimed at reaching a final deal to rein in Tehran's nuclear program.

Tehran has also long been accused of backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by providing arms, cash and manpower to the regime as it battles a three-year uprising which has now left over 136,000 dead.

Kerry had voiced "his concerns and the concerns of the United States about the pace of moving chemical weapons in Syria, about the humanitarian situation on the ground, and about the need to move towards a transitional governing body," Psaki said.

But "Foreign Minister Zarif made clear that he did not have the authority to discuss or negotiate on Syria, so... the focus of the meeting was on the nuclear talks."

Many US allies, including Israel, have reacted angrily to America's growing rapprochement with Iran, warning Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the reins of power, is only interested in winning relief for the hard-hit economy.

Analysts say that it is Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, which reports directly to Khamenei, which is in charge of the country's Syria policy.

Psaki refused to be drawn on what Zarif's comment meant or who would be authorized to speak to Kerry, only adding: "I would point you to the Iranians for how they structure their portfolio."

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