Iran wary groups might use Syria cease-fire to rearm

Iranian officials have welcomed the Syria cease-fire agreement but have warned that it may be used by armed opposition groups to rearm and resupply.

al-monitor US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov seen during a press conference following their meeting in Geneva, where they discussed the crisis in Syria, Sept. 9, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.
Arash Karami

Arash Karami

@thekarami

Topics covered

syrian civil war, jabhat al-nusra, hossein jaberi ansari, hezbollah, cease-fire, bashar al-assad, ali akbar velayati

Sep 12, 2016

Iranian officials and media have welcomed the Syrian cease-fire deal announced Sept. 9 by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, despite also expressing reservations and warnings.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always welcomed a cease-fire in Syria and the facilitation of access to humanitarian help for all of the people in this country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said Sept. 11. In follow-up remarks, however, Ghassemi noted a variety of concerns that had plagued previous attempts to implement cease-fires. “The cease-fire does not include terrorist groups such as Daesh [Islamic State (IS)], Jabhat al-Nusra or other newly formed splinter groups,” Ghassemi said, suggesting that Iran has rejected the rebranding effort by al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which now calls itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

The cease-fire called for a new, joint effort between the United States and Russia to target IS and al-Qaeda militants. Distinguishing between al-Qaeda and other armed opposition groups had been one of the main obstacles in negotiating a cease-fire as far as the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Russia were concerned. “The world community is required to seriously confront extremist takfiri terrorism, decisively, without conditions and without interruption,” Ghassemi said, warning that the cease-fire should not serve as “an opportunity for terrorist groups to revitalize and transfer fighters and arms.”

Ghassemi blamed armed groups for breaking previous cease-fires, saying, “Just as the Syrian government has a number of times emphasized, the lack of necessary guarantees on the adherence of terrorist-takfiri groups to the cease-fire have been an obstacle to the success of previous cease-fires.” Ghassemi added that for this cease-fire to be successful, there needs to be “comprehensive monitoring and control of the borders to block the dispatch of terrorism and arms.” 

One of the main transit routes for opposition fighters entering Syria from other countries has been through the Turkey-Syria border. Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, the first Iranian official to welcome the cease-fire, said that Iranian and Turkish officials have been in consultations and will continue them. 

Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was more cautious about the cease-fire. “A cease-fire and a suspension of the war is the desire of everyone; however, if the cost of it is that the enemies of the government and people of Syria misuse it, not only will this cease-fire not be successful, but it will be harmful,” Velayati said. He added that previous cease-fires had been to the benefit of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

According to Velayati, an acceptable cease-fire is one that takes into consideration the concerns of all the various sides in the war, especially the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

In an article in Iran Newspaper, published by the Ministry of Culture, Mohammad-Reza Raouf Shabiani, the Iranian ambassador to Syria, further warned that groups might use the cease-fire to rearm. Shabiani also lamented that the fate of Syria is being decided by Russia and the United States, writing, “Syria has been turned into a house of competition between international powers, and the people of Syria, whose demand at the beginning was the political reform of society [but] is now security and calm, are now under the influence of international interests.”

The conservative newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz appeared to welcome the news of a cease-fire in an article titled “Obama’s Force Could Not Reach Assad.” It contends that the differences between the United States and Russia will force President Barack Obama to leave office with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still in office.

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