28 June 2016 – Scott Lucas – eaworldview – The Iranian regime’s top official for the Syrian crisis has traveled to Russia for discussions about the political and military situation. Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, arrived in Moscow on Tuesday and began talks with high-level officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He also met Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, and the Russian special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.

Shamkhani has long been involved in contacts with other governments over the Syrian and Iraqi crises, but earlier this month the regime declared him the primary official — rather than Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has usually been marginal in Iran’s approach — “responsible for coordinating Iran’s political, military, and security efforts with Syria and Russia”.

No details have been given so far of the discussions. However, they come as Russia and Iran face growing difficulties over their support of the Assad regime.

The essential allies of President Assad since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Russia and Iran agreed last summer to launch the multi-front offensives from early October that prevented the collapse of the Damascus regime, checked rebel advances, and regained territory in northwest and southern Syria. Moscow pursued thousands of airstrikes, while Iran provided more commanders and troops to take a leading role in the offensives alongside Hezbollah, other foreign militias, and the Syrian military.

However, the offensives have been checked since early this year, and rebels have counter-attacked in some areas. On the frontline south of Aleppo city, the rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah has inflicted a series of defeats on Iranian-led forces, with Tehran suffering its heaviest casualties of the conflict. To the north of Aleppo, pro-Assad forces have struggled to cut off the opposition areas of Syria’s largest city. Meanwhile, a high-profile Syrian military offensive to challenge the Islamic State’s hold in Raqqa Province has ended in an embarrassing reversal after initial gains.

There is some evidence of tension between Russia and Iran over the situation. Pro-Russian outlets blamed Iran for poor command that led to the southern Aleppo losses, while Iranian officials have derided the lack of Russian close air support.

Claimed image of a crowd in Tehran for funerals of Iranian-led Pakistani militiamen killed in Syria:The military challenge has been accompanied by possible political division, as President Assad effectively ended talks in Geneva with a refusal to consider a transitional governing authority. While Russia has suggested that it might be amenable to a regime without Assad in the long-term, Iran has declared the President’s future a “red line” that cannot be crossed.

Three weeks ago, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan hosted meetings with Russian counterpart Shoigu and Syria’s Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij. No information was ever released about the talks.