MESOP : A DICTATORS DECISION – Iran Daily: Tehran is Surprised by Russia’s Withdrawal from Syria

March 16 – by Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Iran’s officials scrambled on Tuesday to cope with the surprise announcement by President Vladimir Putin of a withdrawal of “most” Russian forces from Syria.

Russia and Iran have been the essential backers of the Assad regime during Syria’s five-year conflict, and the two countries have furthered the political and military co-operation amid the growing opposition-rebel challenge. Last July, Moscow and Tehran agreed on a combination of Russia’s bombing and ground offensives to check the rebel advance and prevent Assad’s collapse.

However, Iran appeared to have no advance notice of Putin’s sudden declaration of a pullback from the 5 1/2-month campaign of bombing and Iranian-led ground attacks.

In Tehran, the Supreme Leader’s top aide, Ali Akbar Velayati, played down Moscow’s announcement after a meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal al-Mikdad on Tuesday:

The reduction of Russian forces in Syria will not change the overall cooperation among Iran, Russia, Syria, and allied forces like Lebanese Hezbollah….

[Russia] may reduce its air force…[but] the Russians are participating in the crucial battle against the terrorists, and they will intensify this fight wherever it is necessary. This is something we have heard from senior Russian officials, including Mr. Putin himself.

Velayati preferred a proclamation of triumph rather than an evaluation of the near-future: “Although a lot of damage has been inflicted on Syria, this country stood up against these serious acts of aggression which constitute a mini-world war and emerged victorious.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also indicated Tehran’s surprise, but searched for optimism in the development:

The fact that Russia announced that it is withdrawing part of its forces indicates that it doesn’t see an imminent and impending need to resort to the military option in order to maintain the ceasefire….That in and of itself could be a positive sign. We have to wait and see. Before Putin’s announcement, there had been days of Iranian proclamations — from the Revolutionary Guards to President Rouhani — upholding the necessity of Iran’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War.Since October 7, Iranian media have confirmed the deaths of 208 commanders and troops in Syria amid Tehran’s leading role in the ground offensives. A significant but unknown number of Iranian-led Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan militia have also been killed.