Arash Karami reports: Iranian officials and analysts are speculating about why Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly decided to begin withdrawing troops from Syria. Some wonder whether Russia won concessions from the United States and the Syrian opposition, but most seem to think that Russia’s action is a positive sign, or at the least nothing to worry about.
Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke to Iranian reporters March 15 after holding a press conference with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in Iran. According to the media, Velayati said that during his meeting with Mekdad, they discussed “defending the territorial integrity” of Syria and its April 13 parliamentary elections. When asked if Iranian troops would replace the Russian forces leaving Syria, Velayati said that Russia’s action “will not change the overall cooperation between Iran, Russia, Syria and allied forces such as Hezbollah.”
Velayati noted that Russia still has an air base in Syria and, if necessary, would again up its effort against terrorists. Velayati added that at the moment, the Syrian government has the upper hand given recent gains by its allies, the cease-fires and the Geneva negotiations. In addition to its air base, Russia will also reportedly keep its maritime base in Syria operable, and nearly 1,000 military personnel will remain in the country. [Continue reading…]