The Russian foreign minister has dismissed accusations by the US and a number of its allies that Iran backs terror, saying the Islamic Republic is in fact a “powerful player” in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria.
In an interview with the American magazine National Interest published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website on Thursday, Sergei Lavrov said there is not even a single fact to substantiate Washington’s claim that Iran is supporting terrorism.
“What we do now with Iran and those that cooperate with us and the Syrian army is fighting terrorists in Syria. Iran is a powerful player on the ground, legitimately invited by the government,” Lavrov said.
Besides its own role, Iran also holds influence on Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, another party which is “legitimately” helping the Syrian army in its counterterrorism operations, added the top Russian diplomat.
Lavrov was referring to remarks by US President Donald Trump and other American officials, who have branded Iran as the “number one terrorist state” and the world’s “biggest sponsor of terror.”
He further pointed to Russia’s anti-terrorism campaign in the 1990s in the northern Caucasus region, saying Russia detected no terrorists at all from Iran at that time.
“We know that the political circles in quite a number of countries were really encouraging these terrorist groups to go into the northern Caucasus. Iran had never challenged the sovereignty of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.
Iran has been lending military advisory support to the Syrian army’s operations against Takfiri terrorists at Syria’s request.
The US and dozens of its allies have been pounding purported Daesh targets in the Arab country since 2014, in a campaign denounced by Damascus as unauthorized and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Such uncoordinated US-led operations have done little to contain the terror group, taking, instead, a heavy toll on Syrian civilians and infrastructure.
Lavrov further called for “coordination” among the parties fighting terrorism in Syria.
“And if we all want, you know, to topple, to defeat terrorists in Syria, there should be some coordination. I have already touched upon this,” the Russian foreign minister said.
Russia has been backing up Syria’s ground operations with airstrikes since September 2015.
In addition to their role in Syria’s anti-terror battles, Russia and Iran, along with Turkey, helped broker a ceasefire between Damascus and opposition groups last December.
On the back of the truce, the trio mediated three rounds of peace talks between Damascus and the opposition in Astana, paving the way for the resumption of a parallel peace process under UN auspices in Geneva.
The Russian foreign minister further cast doubt on the sincerity of the US-led coalition’s anti-terror campaign in Syria.
“One year into the creation of this coalition [in 2014], it was very sporadically using the air force to hit some ISIL (Daesh) positions. They never touched the caravans who were smuggling oil from Syria to Turkey and, in general, they were not really very active,” Lavrov said.
“This suspicion is still very much alive these days, when Jabhat al-Nusra already twice changed its name, but it never changed its sponsors who continue to pump money and whatever is necessary for fighting into this structure,” he added.
According to monitoring group Airwars, at least 2,463 civilians have been killed in US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since the start of operations in 2014.