A senior Iranian general has hinted at a growing rift with Russia over the future of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
Tehran and Moscow have both increased military support to Damascus in recent months, shoring up the regime's western heartlands after armed opposition groups pushed towards them. But yesterday (Tuesday), the head of Iran's elite revolutionary guards suggested the nations disagreed over their end game.
"The northern friend who came to Syria to provide military support recently [did so to serve] its interests," said Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari. He added that Moscow "may not care if Assad stays as we do".
As Syria's war rages on through a fifth bloody year, Russia and Iran have joined the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic push to end the conflict, apparently recognising the diminishing chances of an all-out military victory for any side. A senior Russian diplomat said yesterday that Syrian opposition leaders had been invited to sit down for talks with Assad's government in Moscow.
"Next week, we will invite opposition representatives to a consultation in Moscow," said Mikhail Bogdanov, a Russian deputy foreign minister. "The meeting... will possibly be with the participation of government representatives," he said. A foreign ministry spokesman declined to elaborate on Mr Bogdanov's comments, saying that the date of the proposed meeting could only be set when responses had been received to the invitations.
It was not clear whether any had been accepted.