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February 14, 2018 7:01 pm

Iran and Hezbollah Intend to Remain in Syria, US Ambassador Nikki Haley Warns UN Security Council

avatar by Ben Cohen

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, eviscerated Iran’s rulers before the Security Council on Wednesday as the global body debated the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Haley described President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus as “a front for Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies to advance the irresponsible and dangerous agenda for the Middle East.”

“On every front of this conflict, we find fighters imported by Iran from Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Haley told the Security Council. “When we see the Assad regime starving civilians in eastern Ghouta or pummeling schools and hospitals in Idlib, we see advisers from Iran and Hezbollah helping direct those atrocities.”

Haley also criticized Russia for failing to  “guarantee adherence to… de-escalation zones to help the political process.” She continued: “But then again, Russia was also supposed to guarantee that all chemical weapons would be removed from Syria. Instead, we see the Assad regime continue to bomb, starve, and yes, gas civilians.”

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While expressing support for UN efforts to bring peace to Syria as the “sole legitimate venue for coming up with a political solution in Syria,” Haley cautioned that the Assad regime was seeking “a peace in which every person in Syria who opposes the regime is murdered, tortured, starved, imprisoned, or forced to flee the country.” Critically, she noted that the flight of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace last Saturday was “a wake-up call for all of us. Iran and Hezbollah are making plans to stay in Syria.”

Haley’s forthright comments contrasted with the more muted comments of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who expressed concerns about Iran in an interview on Tuesday with the Arabic language broadcaster Al Hurra.

Tillerson argued that the way to counter Iranian influence in Syria is “through the political process.”

“The US is present in Syria for one purpose only, and that is the defeat of ISIS, the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the Secretary of State said. Pressed on the Russian and Iranian presence in Syria, Tillerson stressed that he did not “see the (Assad) regime, Russia, and Iran necessarily gaining ground. I see the entire country eventually defeating ISIS.”

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives sent Tillerson a letter expressing concern that the US is still to develop “a strategy that will ensure Iran does not have a permanent presence on Israel’s border.”

The initiators of the letter, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), issued a joint statement urging Tillerson – who is currently in Jordan on an official visit – to travel to Israel to “make a strong statement to the world that the United States stands with Israel” following the drone incursion.

“Last weekend’s incursion into Israeli airspace by an Iranian drone is completely unacceptable, and just the most recent example of Iran’s destabilizing and malign activities in the region and around the globe,” the statement said. “Tehran cannot be allowed to use the conflict in Syria to establish a permanent presence on the doorstep of our ally Israel.”

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