Rouhani Urges Political Solution to Syrian WarSept. 21, 201601:32
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country has supported the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, said Wednesday that politics, not fighting, will bring the civil war there to an end.
"What is of utmost importance is to understand that Syria doesn't have a military solution," Rouhani told NBC News' Chuck Todd. "And the Syrians' problems must certainly be resolved politically. Only politically."
Fighting has devastated the country, with more than 400,000 people estimated to have been killed since 2011 and 11 million more displaced.
Rouhani stopped short of saying Assad should remain in power. Instead, he stressed that Syria's boundaries and territory remain unchanged, and that the country's leadership be decided by voters.
Syria is technically a democracy, although Assad has faced only token political competition. He won re-election two years ago as the civil war raged, a landslide win amid voting restricted to government-held territories.
"The rule of the ballot box and the rule of the Syrian people and the will of the Syrian people should be the sole determinant of the future of the country," Rouhani said.
Rouhani also dismissed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's demand Wednesday that Syria and Russia ground all aircraft in the northern part of the country after the bombing of a humanitarian convoy threatened a precarious ceasefire. The Pentagon has blamed Russia for the attack.
Doing so, Rouhani said, would help ISIS and the Nusra Front, two terror groups fighting the Syrian government.
"They must be kept under pressure," Rouhani said. "If we ground planes it would 100 percent benefit them."
Rouhani pointed out that American military aircraft on Saturday bombed a Syrian government installation — the United States has called it a mistake — that reportedly killed dozens of Assad's troops.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani talks relations with US after electionSept. 22, 201601:07
The Iranian president also discussed the agreement reached last year that restricted his country's nuclear program in exchange for the loosening of economic sanctions.
Rouhani accused the U.S. Treasury Department of making it hard for banks and other financial institutions from doing business with Iran. Rouhani asserted that Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons after the agreement expires after eight years.
He dismissed American criticism of the deal — particularly from Donald Trump, who has called it a horrible deal that he would renegotiate and has said it would lead to a "nuclear holocaust." Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has said she would "distrust and verifiy" Iran's commitment to the agreement.
Rouhani said no single country, or president, could unravel the agreement, which included seven countries and the United Nations and is policed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Candidates can bring up any topic that they see best suits their campaigns," Rouhani said.
He added, "No one can say here or there that I don’t accept this agreement, I want to renegotiate."