Iran's Defense Minister, Visiting Syria, Seeks 'Productive Role in Reconstruction'

Senior Iranian officials have said their military presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Assad government and they have no immediate plans to withdraw

Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami walks past the missile Fateh-e Mobin, or Bright Conqueror, during inauguration of its production line at an undisclosed location, Iran, on August 13, 2018.
Iranian Defense Ministry via AP

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami arrived in Syria on Sunday for meetings with senior defense and military officials as part of a two-day visit, Tasnim news agency reported.

"We hope to have a productive role in the reconstruction of Syria," Hatami said on arrival in Syria, according to Fars News. 

Senior Iranian officials have said their military presence in the war-torn country is at the invitation of the Assad government and they have no immediate plans to withdraw. 

>> Everyone wants to get Iran out of Syria. But no one knows how to do it

Iran's Revolutionary Guards initially kept quiet about their role in the Syria conflict. But in recent years, as casualties have mounted, they have been more outspoken about their engagement, framing it as an existential struggle against the Sunni Muslim fighters of Islamic State who see Shi'ites – the majority of Iran's population – as apostates. 

Israel has been in talks with the U.S. and Russia for the past few months about removing Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton discussed the matter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel last week.

In an interview with Reuters, however, Bolton said Russian President Vladimir Putin told the U.S. that Moscow could not bring about the withdrawal of Iranian forces. Putin, who met U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, also "told us that his interest and Iran's were not exactly the same," Bolton said.

From Israel Bolton flew to Geneva, where he met with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev. The fact the Bolton stopped in Jerusalem before meeting Patrushev could signal that the Trump administration wanted to hear Israel's views and positions on Syria before discussing any possible agreement with Russia on the subject.