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US could close Syria base in exchange for Iran’s withdrawal from border: report

A U.S. soldier steps down from the roof of a newly installed position, near the tense front line between the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria, Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
AP Photo/Hussein Malla

An aide to the US Secretary of State initiated a proposal during a meeting with Russian, Jordanian and Turkish officials that suggested the dismantling of an American military base on the Syria-Iraq border in exchange for Iranian withdrawal from southern Syria, the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Sunday.

US diplomat David Satterfield was said to have pitched several options in the meeting which included one to remove all Syrian forces and militias from the Jordan-Syria border and in its place station a Russian police force there. Alongside this, the development of a Russian-American supervision mechanism was also discussed amid negotiations.

However, in a separate interview published yesterday by Tasnim news agency, a senior Iranian general denied speculation that his military and Tehran-backed militias were withdrawing from Syria amid report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggesting that preparations were in process.

Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, an advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces told Tasnim that “Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda measures of anyone.”

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Jazayeri said the biggest fear of the “Zionist regime of Israel” is the presence of Muslim fighters in its proximity, which he claimed the US and Israel are making “desperate efforts” to change. “But they (the US and Israel) should know that this condition is not going to change,” he added.

In recent weeks, speculation has mounted regarding Iran’s pullout from Syria as Israel and Russia’s rhetoric on the matter has increasingly converged.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to urge Iranian forces to quickly leave Syria’s southwestern corner. “I think this should happen as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies, following comments that outlined a plan to clear the Israel-Syria border area of non-government militants, chief among them Iran.

“No one can force Iran to do anything,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahran Qasemi said according to a separate interview by Tasnim a week earlier. He added that Iranian forces would remain in Syria for as long as the regime needed them and for as long as there was a terrorist threat there.

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani denied all claims of Iranian military bases in Syria and told the Shargh newspaper that Tehran only supported the regime in an “advisory capacity.” Whilst echoing such comments, Syria’s foreign minister denied all presence of Iranian forces in the region altogether according to the Times of Israel.

Yuri KADOBNOV (AFP/File)

The withdrawal of Iranian forces has long been a demand of Israel, which is alarmed by the military presence of its chief nemesis so close to its northeastern border. Russia's intervention in recent days has been interpreted as a win for Israel's diplomatic efforts.

Israel maintains a formal policy of non-intervention in the Syrian civil war but continuously asserts that it will not allow Iran to entrench itself in the country, where it has for years provided military backing to al-Assad alongside Russia.

Whilst it does not admit to all the recent strikes in Syria, Israel acknowledges launching a number of raids in the war-torn country to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.

Syria’s foreign minister Walid Moallem accused Israel of lying about Iran’s presence in Syria and claimed that the Islamic Regime was there only in an advisory capacity.

Violence came to a head earlier this month when Israel blamed its arch-foe for firing some 32 rockets into Israeli territory. Israel responded with an aerial bombardment that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said wiped out "most" of Iran's military infrastructure in the country.

However, much of the Iranian infrastructure is constructed upon Syrian bases and Israel has also frequently struck Syrian air defense during attacks on Tehran’s posts. Russia expressed concern over repeated Israeli strikes in the region that may jeopardize al-Assad’s grip on power, cited as rationale for its removal of Iranian troops from the region, Haaretz reported last week.

Read more:

Liberman thanks Russia for understanding Israel security concerns, Iranian threat

Report: Russia gives 'green light' for Israeli action against Iran in Syria

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