Iran reportedly rejected Russia’s demands that foreign troops, including Iranian troops, leave Syria when the ongoing civil war there ends, saying on Monday that Iranian soldiers will maintain its presence there for “as long as necessary.”
“As long as it is necessary, the risk of terrorism in Syria exists, and the Syrian government wants Iran to continue its support, we will remain in Syria,” Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on May 21, according to Radio Farda. “No one can force Iran to do anything,” Ghasemi reportedly said. “Iran is an independent country and determines its policies in the region and the world based on its national interests.”
Ghagsemi reportedly made the remarks in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who on May 17 said, “We presume that, in connection with the significant victories and success of the Syrian Army in the fight against terrorism, with the onset of a more active part, with the onset of the political process in its more active phase, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Putin reportedly made that statement after a meeting with his Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Radio Farda noted that Iran has attempted to justify its military involvement in Syria by referring to its fighters there as the “defenders of the shrine” in reference to the Zeinab Shrine, a holy Shi’ite site near Damascus.
Iran and Russia have been involved in a competition of sorts over which nation supports Assad more. In 2015, for example, this Breitbart News journalist reported that “Iran has accused its Russian ally of being divergent on its goals of keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.”
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he clearly stated, “Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety Syria.” During that same speech, Pompeo also said Iran must end its support for the Houthis in Yemen as well as for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On Tuesday, the United States Treasury Department issued a fresh set of sanctions against Iran, targeting five Iranians who are linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The group stands accused of providing ballistic missile support to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.