Syrian regime yesterday dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told Russia's Sputnik news agency that "this topic is not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to Bashar Assad's government. Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.
Mikdad said in yesterday's remarks that Syria "highly appreciates" Russia's military support as well as "advisers" from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that "we cannot let anyone even raise this issue" of the Iranian withdrawal.
"Those who ask for something like that — and this is definitely not our Russian friends — are considering the possibility of intervention in all parts of Syria, including the support of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the region," Mikdad said.
At a meeting with Assad, who visited Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops. Russia has argued that its troops have deployed at the Syrian regime's invitation, while the military presence of the U.S. and others has been illegal.
Putin's envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev's statement appeared to reflect a difficult balancing act for the Kremlin, which hopes to maintain good relations with both Iran and Israel. Israel has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.
During the talks with Assad, Putin also encouraged him to send representatives to a commission in Geneva that would work out proposals for Syria's new constitution as part of a peace process. Mikdad said, however, that Damascus isn't ready yet to nominate its candidates to the body.
In Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian military's General Staff, pointed at the Syrian regime troops' recent gains, saying yesterday that "all the necessary conditions have been created for the revival of Syria as a single, unified state." The general also said Russia, Iran and Turkey set up nearly 30 checkpoints to monitor the de-escalation zone in the northern province of Idlib as part of a deal the three countries brokered.