In a rare show of public disagreement, Iran on Monday appeared to reject remarks from Russia’s leader saying the Islamic Republic should pull its forces out of Syria after a political settlement is reached in the war-torn country.
“No one can force Iran to do anything,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said, according to the Tasnim news website.
“As long as terrorism exists and the Syrian government wants, Iran will have presence [in Syria],” Qasemi said. “Those who have entered Syria without the consent of the Syrian government should leave.”
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said following a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad that the next step after a political settlement in Syria should be foreign countries and groups pulling their troops out of Syria.
“We presume that, in connection with the significant victories and success of the Syrian army in the fight against terrorism… with the onset of the political process in its more active phase, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” Putin said, according to CNN.
Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s envoy for Syria, clarified a day later that Putin’s comment was aimed at the US and Turkey along with Iran and Hezbollah.
“This statement involves all foreign troops in Syria including the Turkish, American, Iranian and Hezbollah,” he said, but added that Putin’s comments should be viewed as a “political statement” rather than as the beginning of a withdrawal process.
Israel has repeatedly demanded Iran’s withdrawal from Syria, accusing Tehran of attempting to establish a military presence in Syria from which to attack the Jewish state.
The comments by Putin came ten days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow and spent nearly 10 hours with Putin — for a series of bilateral talks as well as to participate in several events to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
After that meeting, Netanyahu had reiterated Jerusalem’s determination to continue to act militarily against Iran’s ongoing entrenchment in Syria.
“I told President Putin that it is our right and indeed our duty to take any steps required to safeguard our security interests,” the prime minister told reporters.
“I said that we will always maintain our right and our duty to take all actions required to defend ourselves against Iranian aggression. I think this message was transmitted in a very deep, thorough and serious manner,” he said.
Raphael Ahren and AP contributed to this report.