Iranian Middle East expert Dr. Masoud Asadollahi, a member of the Iranian delegation to the Astana talks, recently revealed Russian-Iranian discord with regard to the presence of Iranian and Hizbullah forces in Syria. Dr. Asadollahi talked about the recent statement by Putin's special envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev that the Russian call to pull out the foreign forces from Syria included Iranian and Iranian-controlled forces, and not just the U.S., French, and Turkish forces. "What does Russia have to do with this? This is very strange. We are not talking about an Iranian presence on Russian soil," Dr. Asadollahi said in an interview, which aired on the Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV channel on May 22.
Dr. Masoud Asadollahi: "In Iran, we say that we will give it two or three months, in order to evaluate the European position, and see whether Europe does, in fact, abide by its commitments, and refrain from imposing sanction upon Iran. They are all acknowledging that Iran has abided by the nuclear agreement. If, indeed, Europe endorses new positions, we will go on with the nuclear agreements. But if it turns out that this was a bad gamble, and Europe cannot release itself from the American hegemony, Iran will pull out of the nuclear agreement once and for all."
Interviewer: "President Putin recently made statements about the foreign forces pulling out of Syria. At first, it was understood that he was referring specifically to the Americans, the French, and the Turks. But then, [Putin's special envoy] Lavrentiev stated that this includes the Iranian forces, and all the forces supposedly controlled by Iran. How do you view this statement?"
Dr. Masoud Asadollahi: "Last week, I was in Astana, as part of the Iranian delegation, and we met with the Russian delegation, which is headed by Mr. Lavrentiev himself. The meeting was very friendly, and Lavrentiev did not mention this topic at all. So we were surprised that two days later, he took this position. It’s true that the position of the Russian president was not clear. He talked about 'foreign forces.' But Mr. Lavrentiev stated the names [of the foreign forces]. First of all, this statement was reported by a Russian news agency. There was no video for us to be sure what Mr. Lavrentiev has said verbatim. But since he has not denied it so far, we are assuming that he did, in fact, say this. This is very strange. First of all, the presence of Iranian forces, Hizbullah, and their allies is approved by the Syrian government and state. Everybody knows this. From day one, we have been saying that we would remain there as long as the Syrian government wants it. As soon as the Syrian government says 'thank you, we don’t need this support.' Iran will be ready to pull its forces out of Syria. But what does Russia have to do with this? This is very strange. We are not talking about an Iranian presence on Russian soil. This is Syrian soil. What's even stranger is that the Russians say that everybody must pull out except for the Russians. That's the gist of it. The Americans, the Turks, the French must all pull out... We agree about this, because these forces entered Syria without the consent of the government and they constitute occupation forces. But with regard to Iran and Hizbullah, it's a different matter. Everybody knows that."