Assad says won't hesitate to expand Iranian presence in Syria
SANA via AP
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that relations with Iran and its presence in Syria were non-negotiable, in an interview on Iran's Al Alam television network, adding that he would not object if need be to the establishment of a permanent Iranian military base within his country's borders.
In recent weeks, speculation has mounted regarding Iran’s pullout from Syria as Israel and Russia’s rhetoric on the matter has increasingly converged.
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.
But Assad said in response to a question from his interviewer that "there is nothing to prevent the existence of these bases as long as Iran is an ally, as is Russia."
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.
"We will not stop responding to Israel," Assad added. "We will not stop fighting the terrorists. At the same time, we have not stopped responding to the Israeli option," he said. The more powerful the response is, the stronger the response to Israel is...."
The Syrian President affirmed the relationship with Iran, vowing not to bow to international pressure.
"The Syrian-Iranian relationship is a strategic relationship, not subject to settlement in the south or in the north...and Syria and Iran will not place this relationship in the international political bazaar to be bargained," Assad pledged in the interview.
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