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Is Putin trying to pressure Assad to negotiate?

Since Russia announced its partial withdrawal of troops from Syria, Iranian commentators have been scrambling to explain the "surprising" decision.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 14, 2016. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin     ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX294YM

The official position of Iranian and Russian officials regarding Russia’s sudden decision to partially withdraw troops from Syria has been that Russia's objectives have been achieved and the move will allow the political process between the Syrian sides to be successful. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, is the latest Iranian official to address the withdrawal, saying March 16, “The withdrawal of Russia from Syria was based on predetermined coordination and plans and in no way was it unexpected.” However, not everyone in the Iranian media is buying the official explanations.

One of the more critical articles of the Russian withdrawal appeared in Reformist Arman Daily, headlined, “Russia was not a strategic partner.” Russia analyst Morteza Makki wrote that the withdrawal can be seen as “an agreement between Russia and the United States for the establishment of a cease-fire … and a new political process.” Makki continued that it is natural for two negotiating sides to apply pressure on their allies, “but not with such speed that it would surprise everyone.”

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