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US envoy: Sanctions forced Iran to reduce forces in Syria

May 13, 2020 at 3:15 pm

Former US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey in Washington, US on 22 May 2019 [Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

Iran is withdrawing some of its forces and militias from Syria as a result of US and foreign sanctions, American envoy James Jeffrey said today, revealing the apparent effectiveness of the economic sanctions.

Speaking at a virtual panel hosted by the Washington-based think tank the Hudson Institute, the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh stated: “We have seen the Iranians pulling in some of their outlying activities and such in Syria because of, frankly, financial problems…in terms of the huge success of the Trump administration’s sanctions policies against Iran. It’s having a real effect in Syria.”

His comments were made following reports by Israeli media that Iran is reducing its military presence in Syria, particularly after a series of sustained Israeli air strikes conducted on Iranian targets within the country.

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Jeffreys also cited other factors which could have contributed towards the Iranian withdrawal, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has plagued the world and particularly Iran throughout the past few months. The most likely cause, however, is President Donald Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran, through numerous economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the US and other foreign countries.

The envoy also took into account the fact that fighting has largely died down in Syria following a ceasefire deal struck in March between Turkey and Russia to halt the Syrian regime’s offensive on Idlib province, resulting in the Iranian-backed Shia militias and Iranian forces no longer being urgently needed in the area. “We do see some withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces. Some of that is tactical because they are not fighting right now, but it also is a lack of money,” Jeffrey said.

The crippling sanctions imposed on Iran will be further added to by the Caesar Act, which aims to sanction governments and companies that support and assist the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad throughout the ongoing civil war. These new economic penalties are set to come into effect on 17 June, with the aim of deterring Assad’s allies such as Iran from continuing their support.

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Sanctions have long been a subject of controversy throughout the ongoing tensions between the US and Iran, with many viewing them as a tool which negatively impacts the people rather than the governments ruling over them, as well as preventing the necessary aid to combat the coronavirus. The fact that Iranian forces and their proxy militias have been forced to withdraw, however, is seen to prove that they can be effective in obstructing military campaigns.

The impact of these sanctions were also admitted last week by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who announced that the country was facing many problems and challenges as a result.