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Iran’s Rohani calls for end of ‘illegitimate’ US presence in Syria

Hassan Rohani (Official Internet Resources of the President of Russia/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The “illegitimate” presence of U.S. forces in Syria should end immediately, Iranian President Hassan Rohani told Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a video conference on July 1 on the situation in the war-torn country.

The talks are the first since September in the so-called Astana format, in which the three countries discuss developments in Syria, where the conflict has entered its 10th year.

Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has called for his ouster and backed opposition fighters. All three countries have also been fighting against remnants of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in December 2018 that he ordered the pullout of all 2,000-2,500 U.S. troops operating in Syria, the United States plans to finalize the withdrawal of most of its troops later this year.

Rohani insisted there is “no military solution” for Syria but reiterated its “determination” to root out IS remnants.

“We continue to support the inter-Syrian dialogue and underline our determination to fight the terrorism of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State), Al-Qaeda, and other related groups.”

“The Islamic republic believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution,” Rohani said in a televised opening address.

Putin told his counterparts that there was a need for peaceful dialogue between warring sides in Syria, where the conflict has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Putin also said that hot spots of terrorism still remain in Syria’s Idlib and other regions.

“I emphasize that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general,” he added.

After delivering opening statements, the three presidents are expected to discuss Syria in private.

Turkey and Russia brokered a March cease-fire in rebel-controlled Idlib Province following a monthslong Russia-backed offensive by Syrian forces that displaced nearly 1 million people and threatened to send a flood of refugees into Turkey.

As part of the cease-fire deal, Turkish and Russian troops conduct joint patrols in a buffer zone between rebel fighters and Syrian government forces along a section of the strategic M4 highway, which connects Aleppo to Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.