A senior Iranian lawmaker has called on his government to display greater openness regarding Syria, saying that Iranians are entitled to know why Iran considers Bashar Assad’s regime to be of strategic importance, a local conservative news website reported Monday.

Popular conservative news site Tabnak said that Ahmad Reza Dastgheib, deputy head of Iran’s Majlis Committee of National Security and Foreign Policy, has called on Iranian officials to “speak with transparency” about the country’s position on Syria.

Tabnak operates under the direction of Mohsen Rezai, secretary-general of the Expediency Council and former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. who launched the site – previously known as Baztab – in 2002 in response to a growth in reformist sites.

The site is a popular news source and considered reliable.

“People have the right to know why Syria is important for Iran and what our interests in that country are,” Dastgheib said, according to Tabnak. “All these cases, consequences and different conditions must be explained to the people.”

Iran, whose dominant faith is Twelver Shia Islam, is Assad’s closest regional ally. Assad and many dominant figures in his regime are Alawite Muslims, a sect that follows a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam.

Syria is important to Iran for many reasons, including the fact that it allows Iran to extend its influence in the region to the border with Israel.

Dastgheib also said Iran did not speak frankly to the Iranian people on various issues, calling this a “major failing,” Tabnak said.

“Although our system is a popular system, sometimes we forget that these people are the regime’s backbone,” he said.

The Iranian lawmaker also said the country must do all it can to prevent the fall of Bashar Assad’s regime.

“We should make all our efforts to prevent the Syrian government from falling,” Dastgheib said, adding that even if Assad’s regime is toppled, Iran would not lose all its strategic positions in the region.

Dastgheib said that Syria is linked to Iranian interests because of its strategic situation, which required the Islamic Republic to conduct an “active diplomacy” with Assad’s regime.

The lawmaker added that the conditions in Syria were such that “a single country must stand against many countries.”

“In any case, Syria should not fall, but if that happens then we must come up with different strategies to maintain our strategic position in Syria, that is, an alternative diplomatic system must also be anticipated,” he said.

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Dr. Eldad Pardo, an expert on Iranian politics and foreign policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that Iran has not told people the truth about its role in Syria, because the Iranian regime is responsible for the massacre of innocent people in that country.

From the start of the Syrian uprising last year, Iran has tried to export to Syria the same repressive techniques it used against its own people during the uprisings after the allegedly rigged 2009 elections and again during 2011, Pardo said.

Iran has been involved in Syria via its Lebanese Shi’ite proxy, Hezbollah, which has publicly expressed support for Syrian president Bashar Assad’s regime, but has so far denied sending fighters.

In May, Iran admitted sending its elite Quds Force to aid Assad.

“Iran has brought death to its allies, the same as it did in Iraq,” Pardo said, adding that since 1979, the Islamic Republic has been involved in wars in the Middle East which have resulted in Arab deaths, including the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Now, thanks to a combination of sanctions and Iran’s own economic policies, there is increasing pressure on Iran for the Islamic Republic to change its strategies, which Dastgheib alluded to, Pardo added.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was supposed to advance both religious and democratic values, and many in Iran believe that the current religious dictatorship has betrayed the revolution.

There is also an ongoing debate in Iran after the Arab Spring, which sought to bring greater democracy to Arab states.

“Even inside the regime, there are voices of dissent who say the country needs to present alternatives,” said Pardo, who noted that the regime remains afraid of transparency and openness.

Syria presents a “major challenge” for the Iranian regime, he added, calling it a “double burden” for Iran.

If Iran loses its Syrian ally, it will lose its access to the Mediterranean, and also its strategy of creating an axis of influence in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

However, Pardo said that many in Iran still believe they can salvage Assad’s regime, overcome the sanctions and also emerge as a nuclear power.

“The real solution in Iran would be internal reform,” he concluded.

Also on Monday, Tabnak dismissed as “rumors and allegations” Western media reports that 48 Iranians captured by Syrian rebels are members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Iran has said those kidnapped are Iranian pilgrims and, according to official news agency, IRNA has urged Qatar and Turkey to help release the hostages.

Tabnak quoted another senior Iranian lawmaker, Esmail Kowsari, as saying the kidnapping of Iranians was part of an initiative by the US and Israel to stir dissent and chaos in Syria.

Later on Monday, IRNA reported that Iran plans to host a meeting – this week – of regional and other countries that have “realistic stances” on Syria, in order to find ways to resolve the country’s crisis.

“A consultation meeting on Syria will be held in Tehran on Thursday with the participation of those countries who have ... realistic stances on this country,” IRNA quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as saying.

The aim of the meeting is to find “ways out of the current crisis, the return of stability and calm to that country and also supporting all constructive regional and international efforts,” Abdollahian said.

The report did not say which countries were invited to the meeting but, because of their involvement in the Syrian crisis, any meeting held without Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is unlikely to have any significant result.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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