Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) is ready to help rebuild Syria and establish a lasting "ceasefire" there, chief commander Mohammad Ali Jafari has said, adding that disarming Lebanon's Hezbollah is out of the question, Iranian state TV reported on Thursday.
Iranian state television quoted Jafari as saying: "Hezbollah must be armed to fight against the enemy of the Lebanese nation which is Israel. Naturally they should have the best weapons to protect Lebanon's security. This issue is non-negotiable."
The United States and Israel have repeatedly voiced concern about Iran’s growing presence and influence in Syria. Israel in particular, has told both Russia and the U.S. that Hezbollah, supported by Iran must stay away from its borders with Syria.
Jafari also praised the success of Iranian allies across the region, hailing a "resistance front" from Tehran to Beirut and calling on Riyadh to avoid confronting this grouping.
"We directly deal with global arrogance and Israel not with their emissaries... That is why we do not want to have direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia," he said. The term global arrogance refers to the United States.
While U.S. and its allies are raising alarm about Iran’s interference in the region, Jafari’s remarks can be seen as a direct challenge.
Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed on Wednesday to help support a full-scale political process in Syria and announced an agreement to sponsor a conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to try to end Syria's civil war.
"The guards are ready to play an active role in establishing a lasting ceasefire in Syria ... and reconstruction of the country," Jafari said.
Iran has signed large economic contracts with Syria, reaping what appear to be lucrative rewards for helping Tehran's main regional ally President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against rebel groups and Islamic State militants.
"In meetings with the (Iran) government, it was agreed that the Guards were in a better position to help Syria's reconstruction ... the preliminary talks already have been held with the Syrian government over the issue," Jafari said.
But IRGC’s role in Iran’s economy is itself a controversial issue. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran harshly criticized the Revolutionary Guard’s strong grip on the country’s economy this year, calling it “a government with guns”.
There are no transparent checks and balances on IRGC’s activities, including its vast economic network in Iran.
Jafari repeated Iran's stance on its disputed ballistic missile work, saying the Islamic Republic’s missile program is for defensive purposes and not up for negotiation.
"Iran will not negotiate its defensive program ... there will be no talks about it," he said.
"(French president Emmanuel) Macron's remarks over our missile work is because he is young and inexperienced."
Macron said earlier this month that Tehran should be less aggressive in the region and should clarify the strategy around its ballistic missile program.
With reporting by Reuters