In visit to Syria, Iranian foreign minister discusses nuclear deal, close ties with Russia
Arab states increasingly welcome Syria back into the fold – much to Washington’s chagrin
Iran’s foreign minister visited the Syrian capital of Damascus on Wednesday to discuss the Russia-Ukraine war and the nuclear negotiations with his Syrian counterpart.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the top Iranian diplomat, met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad and President Bashar Assad with his senior security advisor, Major-Gen. Ali Mamlouk.
Iran and Russia are Syria’s main allies and their military intervention in the Syrian civil war played a crucial role in preventing the Assad regime from collapsing. The war in Syria, which lasted over a decade, claimed the lives of at least half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war 23 million citizens.
Unlike most of the world, the Iranian and Syrian regimes have been very supportive of an increasingly isolated Russia. The Syrian foreign minister defended the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“Russia is defending its right in protecting its people (by pushing) away the NATO presence on its direct border,” Mekdad said. “Russia is defending us all and is defending its sovereignty.”
The visiting Iranian foreign minister also discussed the Russia-Ukraine conflict with Assad, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.
Syria and Iran reportedly both agree that “international balance should not be subjected to dangerous shocks through which Western countries threaten international peace and security.”
During his visit to Syria, the Iranian foreign minister said Tehran, along with major world powers, were on the brink of reviving the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement.
“If the U.S. acts pragmatically, we are ready to have foreign ministers of countries belonging to the nuclear deal’s joint commission gather in Vienna to finalize the agreement,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
“We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before,” he said.
Tehran’s foreign minister also emphasized Iran’s support of the Assad regime.
“We are in the same trench, and we support Syria’s leadership, government and people,” he said.
Turning to Middle Eastern regional affairs, Amir-Abdollahian welcomed the warming of ties between Syria and the rest of the Arab world.
“We welcome and we are satisfied with what some Arab countries are doing by normalizing relations with Syria,” he said.
Assad recently visited the United Arab Emirates, the first official visit by the Syrian leader since the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Assad reportedly met Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ) as well as the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Syria has largely been politically isolated from the rest of the Arab world for over a decade. In 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria as a member, protesting against the Assad regime’s failure to end the bloodshed in the war-torn country. In recent months, several Arab states have signaled a willingness to bring Syria back into the fold.
In November 2021, an Arab League official in Cairo told The National about the Arab world’s joint efforts to reintegrate Syria in the region.
“Nine Arab foreign ministers have informed us that they feel that Syria’s absence has hurt joint Arab endeavors and that Syria must be back sooner than later,” said the unnamed Arab league official.
Around the same time, Jordan publicly announced that it would start reengaging with the Syrian regime.
“Jordan is talking to President al-Assad after not seeing any effective strategy to resolve the Syrian war. Coexistence with the status quo is not an option; a political solution is still required in Syria, in accordance with international law,” Safadi told CNN.
The Biden administration, which has been opposed to ending the political isolation of Syria, expressed its disappointment with Assad’s recent official visit to the United Arab Emirates.
“We are profoundly disappointed and troubled by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price.