Iran’s defence minister vows to help rebuild ravaged Syria
Iran has dispatched military forces to Syria but insists they are advisers, not fighters
Iran’s top defence official met with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus on Sunday, hailing their strong ties and pledging to play a role in the war-torn country’s reconstruction.
Tehran has provided steady political, financial and military backing to President Bashar al-Assad while he was fighting back a seven-year uprising.
On Sunday, Iran defence minister Amir Hatami arrived in Syria and met his counterpart Abdullah Ayoub.
"Syria is in a very important juncture. It is passing through the critical stage and it is entering the very important stage of reconstruction," said Hatami
It was agreed with Syria that Iran would have "presence, participation and assistance" in reconstruction "and no third party will be influential in this issue", he said. Since it erupted in 2011, Syria’s war has cost it about $388bn, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
Assad said in July reconstruction was his "top priority" in Syria, where more than 350,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes.
World powers who have long called for his removal insist reconstruction aid should only come with political transition, but fellow regime ally Russia is pressing them for support.
Ayoub, in comments carried by Syrian state media, championed the two countries’ special relationship. "Syrian-Iranian relations are a model for bilateral ties between independent and sovereign nations," he said.
The two countries have had strong ties for years. Iran has dispatched military forces to Syria but insists they are advisers, not fighters. Iran-backed militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, have also backed Assad’s troops.
With help from them and Russian aircraft, Assad has recaptured about two-thirds of the country and is now eyeing the northwest province of Idlib.
"Idlib will return to the nation’s bosom and all Syrian soil will be cleansed of terrorism, either through reconciliation or ground operations," Ayoub said. He also chided the US, which has established military bases in Syria to fight the Islamic State group. "The Americans are looking to stay east of the Euphrates River to lock in their presence in this region."
A senior diplomat, ambassador William Roebuck, visited territory around those bases on Saturday and said the US was "prepared to stay" in Syria to defeat Islamic State, but also focused on ousting Iran.