The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the American strike against targets of the Iraqi pro-Iranian militias on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian border, on the night of February 25-26. The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled the strike “illegal,” a violation of international law and Syria’s sovereignty. A few hours after the strike, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs spoke to his Syrian counterpart.
In late February, the Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, visited Damascus. During the visit, he met with senior Syrian officials, and discussed developments in the region and expanding cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the spheres of public relations, science and culture.
A conference to examine opportunities to expand the commercial cooperation between Iran and Syria was held in Tehran. Senior Iranian officials working on the economy and trade were in attendance. The conference examined the hinderances holding back the expansion of trade between the two countries, as well as ways to overcome them. Meanwhile, the Iranian deputy president for science and technology visited Damascus to inaugurate the opening of the Iranian House of Innovation and Exports in Syria, which will work to promote the export of Iranian products, technology and knowledge to Syria.
The Iraqi minister of foreign affairs arrived for a second visit in less than a month in Tehran. During the visit, the minister met with his Iranian counterpart, and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and discussed with them developments in Iraq and the region, including the activities of the United States in Iraq. Shortly after this visit, an Iraqi delegation comprised of senior security officials, headed by the senior adviser to the Iraqi minister of interior, paid a visit to Tehran.
Tensions between Iran and Turkey after the Iranian ambassador to Iraq gave an interview to a Kurdish TV channel, during which the ambassador lambasted Turkey’s intervention in northern Iraq. After the interview, the Iranian ambassador to Ankara was called into a meeting and received a démarche.
The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Iranian involvement in the attack on an Israeli-owned ship sailing through the Straits of Oman. He claimed that Israel is the cause of instability in the region, and that Iran will retaliate if steps are taken against it.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, condemned the American strikes against targets belonging to pro-Iranian Iraqi militias in Albu Kamal, eastern Syria, near the Syria-Iraq border. The strike was carried out on the night between February 25-26 and resulted in the death of at least one member of the Kataeb Hezbollah militia and the injury of others. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Interior labeled the attack “illegal” and a grave violation of human rights and international law. He remarked that the American strike is the continuation of the ongoing aggression of the “Zionist regime” on Syrian land and was carried out while American forces occupy parts of Syria, and the American bases in the country are used to provide guidance to “terrorist forces.” Khatibzadeh remarked that the American “aggression” is a violation of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity and will result in an escalation of the military conflicts and instability in the region (ISNA, February 26).
A few hours after the American strike on the Syria-Iraq border, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke on the phone with his Syrian counterpart, Faysal al-Miqdad. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, reported (February 26) that the two discussed bilateral relations and ways to deepen them in an effort to counter the economic sanctions placed on both countries. In addition, the ministers of foreign affairs discussed regional developments and the ongoing negotiations to settle the war in Syria. Foreign Minister Zarif stressed Iran’s support for Syria in all spheres, and particularly in the war on terror.
On February 24, the Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, visited Syria and met with senior regime officials. During his meeting with the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faysal al-Miqdad, the two discussed regional developments and bilateral relations, particularly in the political, media relations, science and cultural spheres, and ways to bolster those ties. Khatibzadeh stressed that Tehran sees its relations with Syria as highly important and added that Iran supports a solution that will restore security and stability in Syria, while preserving the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. In a conversation with reporters, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Iran intends to send fuel and flour to assist the Syrian people. In addition, Khatibzdeh met with the Syrian Minister of Information, and with the Adviser to the Syrian President, Buthaina Shaaban, and gave a lecture in the Diplomatic Academy and the Center for Strategic Studies in Damascus (al-Watan, February 25; Fars, February 27).
On March 1, the Tehran Chamber of Commerce held a conference to discuss opportunities and strategies to expand commercial cooperation between Iran and Syria. The conference was attended by Hamid Reza Zadbum, the Head of the Organization for Development of Trade; Hassan Danaeifar, the Secretary of the Headquarters for Developing Ties Between Iran and Syria; Keyvan Kashefi, the Head of the Joint Iranian-Syrian Chamber of Commerce; and senior businessmen and traders. The Executive Director for the Affairs of Arab and African Countries, Farzad Pitlan, stated at the conference that Iran sees Syria as a strategic political and economic partner, and that economic and trade ties must be expanded between the two countries. He remarked that Iran can export to Syria not only goods but also technical and engineering services and participate in many projects as part of the country’s reconstruction process. He added that the Organization for Development of Trade has plans to expand the trade with Syria in the next three years to a total volume of 1.5 billion dollars, but the implementation of the plans requires reducing commercial risks, removing hinderances related to banking, and building the required transportation infrastructure (IRNA, March 1).
The Head of the Organization for Development of Trade, Hamid-Reza Zadboom, updated the attendees of the conference about the efforts by both countries to remove the import taxes on trade between them. He admitted that there are hinderances impeding the expansion of commercial cooperation between the two countries, and that the volume of trade between the two countries diminished over the past year, mainly due to the impact of the Western sanctions and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic (ILNA, March 1).
The Syrian Co-Chairman of the Joint Iranian-Syria Chamber of Commerce, Fahad Darwish, stated that the countries are facing economic warfare, and they must act to mitigate the impact of the sanctions imposed on them. He called for establishing a joint Iranian-Syria bank, which could facilitate the establishment of joint companies of Iranian and Syrian businesspeople. He also called for creating a joint line of credit and removing import taxes between Iran and Syria (Mehr, March 1).
On March 3, the Iranian Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Sourena Sattari, arrived for a visit in Damascus at the helm of a delegation focusing on trade and technology, which included the directors of 40 companies. As part of this visit, the Iranian House of Innovation and Exports was established in Syria (it is the third of its kind, after similar “houses” were established in China and Kenya). This establishment will facilitate the export of technology products and knowledge to Syria. In addition, Iranian experts met with Syrian companies to discuss trade and technology and ways to find international markets for tech products produced in both countries. In addition, during the visit, the Department of Science and Technology and the Office of the Iranian President, and the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research signed a memorandum of understanding, which concerned establishing labs focused on nanotechnology and biotechnology, as well as hospitals (IRNA, March 1; ISNA, March 3).
Iranian Involvement in Iraq and the Gulf
The AP news agency reported (February 25), that the attack of explosive-laden unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against the presidential palace in Riyadh on January 23, 2021, was carried out from Iraqi territory. A senior official in the Iraqi pro-Iranian militia and a senior American official told the news agency that three UAVs were launched from a location near the Iraqi-Saudi border by an unknown militia supported by Iran. The senior Iraqi militia commander claimed that the UAVs parts were transferred from Iran and assembled in Iraq, before being deployed and crashing into the presidential palace compound in Riyadh. After the attack, an unknown group named the “True Promise Brigade” claimed responsibility for the attack, presenting it as a retaliation for a suicide bombing in Baghdad (claimed by ISIS).
On February 27, the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fouad Hussein, arrived for a visit in Tehran. This is his second visit to Iran in less than a month. During the visit, Hussein met with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zarif, and with Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Shamkhani stated in the meeting that the delay in the implementation of the resolution passed by the Iraqi parliament calling for the removal of American forces from Iraq, will exacerbate tensions and crises in the region. He warned of American activities in Iraq, which are intended, he claims, to bolster the terrorist activities of ISIS in the region. He added that the American strike against the Iraqi militias in Syria is the beginning of a new phase of “organized terror” (Tasnim, February 27).
The Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif also condemned the American strike on the Syrian-Iraqi border, calling it illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty. He remarked that some of the attacks that occurred recently in Iraq, which were attributed to the Shia militias, appear suspicious and possibility intended to jeopardize Iraqi-Iranian relations and to destabilize the country. He called on the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of those attacks. Zarif called for launching the works to complete laying the railway from Shalamcheh in western Iran to Basra in southern Iraq, which aims to facilitate the expansion of trade ties between the two countries. The Iraqi minister of foreign affairs stated in the meeting that his country is working to accelerate solving the problems Iran has faced in accessing its financial resources in Iraq (due to Western sanctions) and added that Iraq will not allow the recent events on its territory to harm the relations between the two countries (Mehr, February 27).
In early March, a delegation comprised of senior Iraqi security officials, headed by the Iraqi Minister of Interior, Abd al-Halim Fahim al-Farhoud, arrived for a visit in Tehran. The members of the delegation met with Ali Abdollahi, the Head of the Coordination Department at the General Command of the Iranian Forces, who stated during the meeting that the removal of U.S. forces is the most important step for restoring security and stability in the region. He added that Iran is willing to assist the Iraqi police and border guards to bolster their capabilities in the campaigns against ISIS, drug gangs and smugglers along the border. The Iraqi delegation also included the commander of the Iraqi Border Guards, the commander of the Authority for Combatting Organized Crime, the commander of the Federal Police, and the commander of the Rapid Intervention Force (Mashregh News, March 1).
The meeting between the head of the Coordination Department at the General Command of the Iranian Armed Forces and the senior adviser to the Iraqi minister of interior (Mashregh News, March 1, 2021)
On February 22, the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, met with the Iraqi Minister of Trade, Alaa Ahmed al-Jubouri, and discussed the commercial cooperation between the two countries and ways to expand it, as well as preparations ahead of the visit of the Iranian Minister of Industry and Trade, Ali Reza Razm Hosseini to Iraq (IRNA, February 22).
The meeting between the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad with the Iraqi minister of trade (IRNA, February 22, 2021)
The Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, lambasted Turkey’s intervention in northern Iraq in an interview to the Kurdish TV channel Rudaw (February 27). He stated that Iran opposes Turkey’s intervention in Iraq and called on Ankara to withdraw its forces from the country and respect international law. According to him, Iraq’s security should be preserved by Iraqi forces, and the forces of the Kurdish region. Masjedi insisted that there is no justification for the Turkish involvement in the fighting around the city of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, and that this is an internal matter that ought to be resolved by Iraqis themselves. Addressing the recent attacks on the compound of the American embassy in Baghdad and the rocket attack on Erbil, Masjedi stated that Iran opposes the presence of occupation forces in Iraq, and yet forcefully condemns any attack on a consulate or embassy of the United States or any other country. The ambassador added that Iran respects the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish fighters and praised them for the vital and significant role they played in the campaign against ISIS. Following the criticism voiced by Masjedi concerning Turkey’s intervention in Iraq, the Iranian ambassador in Ankara was called into a meeting and received a démarche.
The Spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saeed Khatibzadeh, denied that Iran is involved in the attack on the Israeli-owned ship coasting through the Gulf of Oman. He stated that Iran vehemently rejects this “baseless” accusation, adding that the security of the Persian Gulf is of outmost importance to Tehran. He added that “the regime occupying Jerusalem” is the reason for instability and insecurity in the region, and that Iran will respond in the place and time of it choosing if steps are taken against it (Tasnim, March 1). A commentary published in the Iranian hardline newspaper Kayhan (February 28) stated that the attack on the Israeli “military vessel” represents vengeance of the “resistance” for the attacks carried out in recent months by the United States and Israel against the “resistance axis” In Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Iranian Involvement in the Palestinian Arena
On February 28, the Iranian Ambassador to Qatar, Hamid-Reza Dehghani, met in Doha with a number of members of Hamas’ Politburo, chief among them the Head of the Politburo, Ismail Hanniyeh, and stressed before them Iran’s support for the Palestinians and their unity. The meeting was also attended by the ambassadors of Russia, Turkey and South Africa, as well as members of the Politburo Moussa Abu Marzouq, Izzat al-Risheq, Husam Badran and Maher Obaid. Hanniyeh provided an overview of the latest developments concerning the upcoming general elections in Gaza and the West Bank (Fars, February 28; al-Risala Net, February 28).