PHOTO: Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan in Tehran on Tuesday
Syria’s Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij is in Tehran to appeal for more assistance from Iran, after a series of rebel victories against the Assad regime and an escalating economic crisis.
Freij made the sudden visit on Tuesday, meeting Iranian counterpart Hossein Dehghan and other senior military officials.
Syria’s State news agency SANA gives no details, merely citing “steps of mutual strategic cooperation between the two countries’ armies to face regional challenges and threats and the terror dangers on the region and the world”.
Dehghan avoided any specific reference to the military situation inside Syria, instead issuing a general statement about the threats of “providing permanent security for the Zionist regime, weakening and disintegrating Muslim countries, altering the Middle East’s map, countering the wave of Islamic awakening, and ultimately [facing] complete domination over this Islamic region”.
He reiterated Iran’s “full support” for Syria in its “battle against terrorism” and said dialogue is the only solution for the 4-year conflict.
Iran has been essential for the survival of the Assad regime, providing billions of dollars to prop up the Syrian economy as well as political support. The Iranian military has stepped up its involvement, moving from the provision of officers for logistics, intelligence, and training of Syrian forces to the supply of battlefield troops, including Afghan immigrants promised money and residency in Iran.
Despite this, rebels have made significant advances since January across the northwest and south of Syria, capturing the provincial capital of Idlib and other towns and cities as well as consolidating control of the countryside. In the past week, a rebel offensive across Idlib and Hama Provinces has taken the key town of Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border, captured one of the Syrian military’s last camps south of Idlib city, and threatened to cut off Syrian forces between Aleppo, southern Idlib, and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
The Assad regime also faces sharply rising prices; shortages of food, energy, and basic goods; and a rapidly-weakening currency. It has been appealing to Iran for extension of a $3.2 billion line of credit provided in July 2013.
Despite these developments, Dehghan insisted, “The people and government of Syria, with their unparalleled resistance made bullies understand that by exporting terrorists, arming and supporting them, and launching military attacks, they cannot force the region’s Muslim nations to surrender.”
He also criticized the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen’s civil war, declaring, “Undoubtedly the designers and executors of this sinister scenario… will not reach their ominous goals.”
Foreign Minister Zarif on US TV: “We Insist on Our Dignity in Nuclear Talks”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, amid nuclear talks in New York, has put out Iran’s standard lines in an interview on the American outlet CBS:
We do not want to have animosity with the West. We want to have the benefits of interaction. But we insist on our dignity, we insist on being able to engage based on mutual respect.
Answering a question about the Supreme Leader’s hostile rhetoric regarding America, Zarif said the Iranian public is “very skeptical of US intentions”.
He said that sanctions have not changed the mind of the Iranian Government but had antagonized Iranians:
Speaking in Shiraz on Wednesday, President Rouhani also declared that the US-led sanctions have failed: “The 5+1 group should know that the Iranian people and government support each other. Nobody can continue putting pressure against Iran in future months and years, and the structure of sanctions is collapsing.”