Iran says democracy not a 'priority' in Syria now

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right) holds talks with his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer during a press conference in Tehran, on September 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/)

Tehran (Iran) (AFP) - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that democracy was currently not a priority in Syria when people in the Islamic republic's key ally are being killed.

"Is it a priority to discuss democracy in Syria today?" Rouhani asked at a news conference with visiting Austrian President Heinz Fischer.

"Is it a priority to talk about the opposition and (government) supporters, or reforming the Syrian constitution?"

Iran provides financial and military support to Syria and has military advisers on the ground there.

In August, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif submitted a peace plan to President Bashar al-Assad aimed at ending the four-year war.

Rouhani said on Tuesday Syria was in "complete instability" with "millions of people displaced and hundreds of thousands killed".

What mattered to Tehran was saving the "lives of the Syrian people" and "the return home of refugees", he added.

"The first step is to stop the bloodshed, to establish relative security in Syria and the refugees can go home," said Rouhani, insisting that starting with a "wrong first step" would mean failure.

"Then we can talk about Syria's future, opposition groups, democracy and elections," he said.

Rouhani stressed that Iran was ready to "sit down at any negotiating table anywhere in the world" to help stop the violence and establish peace in Syria.

More than 240,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began with anti-government protests in March 2011 but spiralled into a complex civil war after a government crackdown.

Since 2013, Sunni jihadists including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group have seized large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, Iran's other Shiite ally.