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No US 'permission' needed to stay in Syria: Tehran

Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Iran's supreme leader, shakes hands with Putin [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 July, 2018

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A senior adviser to Iran's ayatollah said Tehran has no intention to leave Syria and 'won't heed' Washington's demand to do so.

Iran has no plan to leave Syria despite mounting US and Israeli pressure, a senior Iranian official said on Friday ahead of the upcoming US-Russian summit.

Senior adviser Ali Akbar Velayati made the remarks after his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Putin that Israel wants Iran to leave Syria.

US President Donald Trump will meet with Putin for high-level talks in Helsinki, and the two are expected to discuss Iran's presence in Syria. 

Russia has warned it is unrealistic to expect Iran to withdraw from Syria.

But observers say a possible deal could see Syrian regime troops replacing Iranian forces and its ally Hizballah in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. 

Velayati reaffirmed Iran's firm intent to maintain its presence in Syria, but skirted a question about a possible pullback from the border, saying only that Tehran won't bow to US and Israeli pressure.

"We will be present there the way we consider necessary. Sometimes we will play our role in Syria open-handed, sometimes we will do it with our hands hidden," he said.

While Velayati maintained a combative tone, his careful response reflected the intense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the Helsinki summit.

He expressed skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, repeating tough criticism of the US. 

"We have come there without the Americans' permission and we won't heed their demands to leave," he said.

Velayati also strongly warned Russia against listening to the US arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria.

"I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria," he said. "They are trying to split our alliance."

President Bashar al-Assad's forces rely heavily on Iranian-led foreign fighters from Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias, along with Lebanon's Shia group Hizballah.

Israel has launched dozens of strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. 

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