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Iran sought to broker Syria deal between Assad, Muslim Brotherhood

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ISTANBUL — A leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood says Iran has sought to coax the Islamist group into supporting President Bashar Assad in exchange for four high-ranking positions in the Syrian government.

Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, the top political leader in Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, told The Washington Times that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent three emissaries to Istanbul in late October to try to broker the deal.

"We refused to meet with them," said Mr. Tayfour, one of nine members of the Syrian National Council's executive committee, which is leading the opposition to the Assad regime. "We told them [through a Turkish mediator] that Iran has been taking sides against the Syrian people.

"When Iran takes the side of the Syrian people, then we are willing to meet with the envoys and talk with them," he said at the council's office in Istanbul on Tuesday. "Otherwise, there is no way we can meet with the Iranians when they are assisting in the killing of our people."

Mr. Tayfour said the Turkish mediator was a personal acquaintance, not a government official, and that Ankara had no involvement in the overture.

He said the mediator reached out to him three times in one week in an attempt to set up a face-to-face meeting with the emissaries, who were then staying at an Istanbul hotel.

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most influential Islamist groups in the Middle East, is banned in Syria, which is engaged in a months-long deadly crackdown on dissent and has long enjoyed support from Iran's Shiite theocracy.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 5,000 Syrians have been killed in the crackdown since it began in March.

Syrian and Iranian officials did not reply to emails seeking comment.

Mr. Tayfour's revelation underscores the lengths to which the Iranian regime has gone to preserve its Arab ally's grip on power. The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting Mr. Assad's crackdown, though it has provided few specifics.

In the interview, Mr. Tayfour said Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, were sending snipers and other operatives into Syria to help the regime quell the nearly 10-month-old uprising.

The Arab League has called on the Assad regime to remove snipers as part of a peace plan that Syria has agreed to, and last week it sent about 100 monitors to Syria to observe the regime's implementation of the plan.

Mr. Tayfour said the League's role in the process "has run out," noting that Syrian forces have continued killing citizens despite the presence of the monitors in the country.

"Our choice is to stop the killing of civilians, to protect civilians, and if there is no other choice than foreign military intervention like that which happened in Libya, then we have to accept it," he said.

The Syrian opposition leader said there is "almost a consensus" among his colleagues on seeking international military action, echoing comments of another executive board member.

Samir Nashar told The Times on Saturday that most of his colleagues support foreign military action to oust Mr. Assad "but they might not be brave enough to express it openly."

The Syrian National Council includes opposition figures and defectors from Syria's military.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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