Ira­nian de­fi­ant on de­mands to leave Syria

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

MOSCOW — Iran has no in­ten­tion of leav­ing Syria re­gard­less of U.S. and Is­raeli pres­sure, a se­nior en­voy to Iran’s leader said Fri­day, reaf­firm­ing a tough stance on the mat­ter that’s ex­pected to top the agenda of the com­ing U.S.-Rus­sian sum­mit. The state­ment from Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, a se­nior ad­viser to Ira­nian Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, came in the wake of his meet­ing in Moscow with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. A day ear­lier, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu told Putin that Is­rael wants Iran to leave Syria. The high-level talks pre­cede Mon­day’s sum­mit in Helsinki be­tween Putin and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who are set to dis­cuss the Ira­nian pres­ence in Syria. Both the U.S. and Is­rael want Iran to pull out of Syria, while Rus­sia has warned it would be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect Iran to fully with­draw from the coun­try. A pos­si­ble deal could see Syr­ian troops re­plac­ing Ira­nian forces and its proxy Hezbol­lah mili­tia in the ar­eas near the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied Golan Heights. Ve­lay­ati reaf­firmed Iran’s firm in­ten­tion to main­tain its pres­ence in Syria, but skirted a ques­tion about a pos­si­ble pull­back from the bor­der, say­ing only that Tehran won’t bow to U.S. and Is­raeli co­er­cion. “We co­or­di­nate the Ira­nian pres­ence in Syria with Rus­sia and Syria,” Ve­lay­ati said dur­ing a meet­ing at Moscow’s Val­dai Club dis­cus­sion plat­form. “We will be present there the way we con­sider nec­es­sary. Some­times we will play our role in Syria open-handed, some­times we will do it with our hands hid­den.” While Ve­lay­ati main­tained a com­bat­ive tone, his care­ful re­sponse re­flected the in­tense diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ing ahead of the Helsinki sum­mit. He ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the out­come of the meet­ing, re­peat­ing crit­i­cism of the U.S. and say­ing he didn’t ex­pect Trump to make any pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to sta­bi­liz­ing the Mid­dle East. Ve­lay­ati ar­gued that Iran, along with Rus­sia, helped stem fight­ing in Syria and pre­vented the coun­try from fall­ing to the Is­lamic State group and other mil­i­tants, scoff­ing at the U.S. de­mands to leave. “We have come there with­out the Amer­i­cans’ per­mis­sion and we won’t heed their de­mands to leave,” he said. Ve­lay­ati also strongly warned Rus­sia against lis­ten­ing to the U.S. ar­gu­ments about the Ira­nian pres­ence in Syria. “I told the Rus­sian of­fi­cials: Now the Amer­i­cans are telling you that the Ira­ni­ans must leave Syria and to­mor­row they will ask you what you are do­ing in Syria,” he said. “They are try­ing to split our al­liance.”


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