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Why did Iran's Reformists shift on support for Syria?

After having initially supported protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some Iranian Reformists have changed their positions and now openly back Assad's fight against the Islamic State.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) holds a press conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem in Tehran on December 8, 2014, ahead of a conference with their Iraqi counterpart on combating extremism. Iran is the main regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Tehran has acknowledged sending military advisers to assist his forces in their fight against armed rebels and jihadist militants. AFP PHOTO/ ATTA KENARE        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aid to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, visited Syria to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on May 19 and announce once again his country’s support of Assad. The visit came only a few weeks after Syria’s defense minister, Fahd Jassem al-Freij, visited Tehran on April 28 to meet with Iranian officials. In another development, two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) generals were killed in Syria in a military operation against anti-Assad fighters on May 20. In Iran, killed IRGC generals are highly respected and hailed as patriot heroes who fought against the Islamic State (IS) and sacrificed their lives in defense of their country and the holy shrines of the Shiite faith. After a long period of controversy and disagreement about foreign policy issues between Reformists and conservatives, there appears to be a consensus on national security.

Many Reformists in Iran initially welcomed the protests against Assad. Between Aug. 5, 2011, and Oct. 18, 2012, the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, one of Iran’s main Green Movement groups, issued a series of statements lending fundamental support to the uprising of the “oppressed people of Syria,” comparing their protests to the Iranian Green Movement protests and suggesting that freedom-seekers throughout the world should learn from each other. In September 2011, 150 Iranian physicians wrote a letter to Assad, condemning “the massacre of defenseless Syrian people.” Leading Reformists such as Mostafa Moeen, Mohammad Reza Khatami and Ali Shakouri-Rad were among those who signed the letter.

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