TEHRAN – Iranian authorities called on Monday on the region’s countries to unite to expel US troops from the Middle East during a visit to Tehran by a Syrian delegation headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis.
Khamis’s presence in Iran was significant because the Islamic Republic has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in its war against the armed opposition and insurgent groups, support that mostly came via Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was recently killed in a US drone strike in Iraq.
“As long as US terrorist forces are present in West Asia, the region will not achieve peace or security,” Ali Shamkhani, an influential official who serves as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told the Syrian prime minister.
To end this situation, Shamkhani said that “the withdrawal of the US will happen through the unity of the countries and governments of the region,” Iranian official state media reported.
“The presence and interference of the United States have caused instability, especially in Iraq and Syria,” Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said.
The expulsion of US troops, therefore, is “the best revenge,” Jahangiri said.
Syria is part of the so-called Axis of Resistance against the United States and Israel led by Iran and comprised of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Iran and some of these groups vowed revenge for the killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
“Without a doubt, the martyrdom of Gen. Soleimani will make the Axis of Resistance more determined in its fight,” Shamkhani said.
The United States thought that Soleimani’s killing would lead to the “collapse of that front of the region,” Shamkhani said.
The Iranian general’s killing, however, led to “more cohesion and strengthening of the Axis of Resistance,” Shamkhani said.
Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani expressed the same view during his meeting with Khamis.
As the head of the elite Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Soleimani had for years spread Iran’s influence across the wider Middle East, strengthening Shia militias from Lebanon to Iraq.
Khamis posthumously awarded Syria’s highest military medal to Soleimani, noting that the honor reflected “the deep affection” of al-Assad for the late Iranian general.
The Syrian official also thanked Iran for its support in eradicating terrorism in Syria and called for strengthening economic and trade relations at a time when Iranian companies are seeking huge contracts to rebuild the Arab country.
Soleimani’s killing is “an example of the US conspiracies in the region,” the Syrian prime minister, who headed a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem and Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, said.
“The fight against the presence of US forces in the region must become a sustained process,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said during a meeting with his Syrian counterpart.
Despite Soleimani’s death, “the path of resistance continues,” Hatami said.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, Iran launched a missile attack on an air base in Iraq housing US troops, sparking fears of a wider conflict and leading countries that have good relations with Tehran and Washington to mediate in a bid to ease tensions.
The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Tehran on Sunday, while Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to ease tensions in the region on Monday.
Qureshi, who is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia next, called for “maximum restraint and immediate steps” to resolve the crisis, advocating “dialogue and diplomacy.”
No one wants war, the Pakistani official said.
Iranian President Hasan Rohani said he welcomes “with pleasure, Pakistan’s efforts to promote regional peace and stability.”
The Islamic Republic “never tried to start a war,” the Iranian president said.