Valerie Amos, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a news conference at the U.N. office in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
by Nasser Karimi
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief met with officials with Iran’s government, calling Sunday on the unwavering backer of Syria’s government to provide more humanitarian assistance to civilians caught in that country’s civil war.
Valerie Amos also spoke to journalists during her first visit to Tehran, saying that she urged Iran’s government to help aid agencies gain greater access to those needing help in Syria.
“The humanitarian situation in Syria currently is dire,” Amos said. “We now have a situation where 6.8 million people in the country are in urgent need of help. That’s nearly a third of the population.”
Iran is a key regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war. It has occasionally sent humanitarian aid to Syria in the past.
Iranian state television reported Amos met Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and stressed the importance of Iran providing assistance to regional countries like Syria. Zarif told Amos about Iran’s humanitarian efforts so far in Syria, the report said.
A report by the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi saying Iran is ready for extended and effective cooperation with the U.N. to provide humanitarian aid.
“There are plenty of crisis caused by political developments in the Middle East, like what we are currently witnessing in Syria,” Araghchi was quoted as saying.
Amos also said in a statement that she signed a joint statement with the Iranian government about strengthening cooperation and providing help to humanitarian and disaster management agencies, as well as other organizations. ISNA initially reported a memorandum of understanding on aid had been signed. Iranian state television and the U.N. later said it had only been discussed.
Amos’ visit comes as part of a push by the world body to get more help to those in need in Syria. In a document circulated to the U.N. Security Council last month and obtained by The Associated Press, Amos said that there should be a public commitment in Syria by the government and opposition to protect civilians and those no longer engaged in hostilities, including the sick, wounded and detained.
Amos said all parties should also make commitments to avoid establishing military positions in populated areas, to give advance notification of military offensives, to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian convoys on designated routes including across front lines, and to institute “humanitarian pauses” to get aid to the most affected areas.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.