Russia and Iran to strengthen cooperation in Middle East

Russia and Iran have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in order to bring stability and security to the Middle East, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif held a telephone conversation on Saturday at Moscow’s request, the ministry added.

The conversation between the two followed Lavrov’s talks with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey about Syria in Vienna on Friday.

Earlier on Saturday, Lavrov said his country was ready to provide air support for Western-backed moderate rebels battling both jihadists and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as Moscow presses on with its diplomatic offensive over the conflict.

Speaking after a surprise summit between Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin this week, Lavrov urged moves towards presidential and parliamentary polls in the war-torn country.

Iran, Assad’s closest regional ally, said earlier this week it will not work to keep him in power “forever”.

“In any political process the role played by Bashar Al-Assad will be important,” the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.

“We are not working for Assad to stay in power forever as president. But we are very cognizant of his role in the fight against terrorism and the national unity of that country,” he added.

Near the start of the Syrian civil war, it was reported that Iran’s former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally sanctioned the dispatch of officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to fight alongside Assad’s troops.

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But Amir-Abdollahian denied  that his country had fighters on the ground in the Syrian conflict, though he did say Iran would step up its military support for the Syrian regime in the form of advice on fighting terrorism.

Despite Iran’s claims otherwise, Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was spotted in Syria this week addressing Iranian military officers and members of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, in what could be a sign that Iran is stepping up its military support for Syria.

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