The US-led coalition’s Sept. 17 bombing of Syrian government forces has triggered increasingly tough Iranian rhetoric on the role the United States is playing in Syria.
After meeting with the Syrian ambassador to Iran, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the former Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs who now serves as director general of international affairs in parliament, said Sept. 18, “America’s behavior shows that the United States and its allies are always looking to strengthen terrorist groups in Syria and the announced cease-fire should be regarded in that respect.”
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, US-led coalition airstrikes coming from the direction of the Syrian-Iraq border killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers in the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor.
When the Sept. 10 cease-fire plan was announced by the United States and Russia, Iran welcomed the initiative, saying conflict must be ended through dialogue. The Iranian tone has significantly changed in the aftermath of the unprecedented strike on Syrian forces. On Sept. 18, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said, “This American move, which was concurrent with attacks by the [Islamic State (IS)] terrorist group on the same positions, was in violation of the national sovereignty of the Syrian government and such a move showed that terrorist groups enjoy US support in Syria.”
Of note, the US-led coalition says it mistakenly hit the Syrian army instead of nearby IS militants. The militants reportedly advanced to seize a hilltop overlooking a Syrian military base held by government forces after the bombing.
Meanwhile, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Amir-Abdollahian’s successor as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs, is in Damascus for the second time in two weeks. Ansari met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who stressed “the importance of the support provided by Iran, Russia and other friendly countries.” The two agreed on strengthening bilateral coordination and cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries.
The strong condemnation from Tehran comes as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders prior to the national “Sacred Defense Week,” which marks the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.
Once again taking aim at engagement with the United States, Khamenei said Sept 18, “Logic rules that we should absolutely distrust those who have openly maintained hostility toward us; thus, it is necessary for officials to stay vigilant in the wake of the enemy’s infiltration and thirst for domination.” Suggesting that Washington has reached out to Tehran for talks on regional issues, Khamenei added, ”Why else would US officials insist on holding talks with us on concerns regarding the West Asian region — particularly Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen? What is their genuine goal, of holding such negotiations? They seek nothing other than preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from being the core factor in making the US nosedive in the region.”
In this vein, Khamenei concluded, “Negotiations with the US are not only useless, but also harmful; this has been made clear to high-ranking officials of the country,” in a seeming reference to President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Indeed, Khamenei notably asserted that these officials “had no response” to his reasoning for the futility of talks with the United States.