Iran Reviving Plans For Syria As It Negotiates For Lifting US Sanctions
Iran can build and rebuild hundreds of thousands of homes in Syria without any competition if it could only transfer money, the Iranian Deputy Minister for Roads and Urban Development was quoted as saying.
ISNA news website quoted Mahmoud Mahmoudzadeh on Tuesday that “The issue of transferring money for the activities of Iranian companies for Syria’s reconstruction will soon be solved.” He added that Iran can build at least 200,000 residential units, where it has no competition.
Mahmoudzadeh’s remarks indicate that the reconstruction will be paid by Iran, which is in deep economic crisis due to US sanctions but hopes that an agreement in nuclear talks with the United States in Vienna will be soon concluded and a major part of those sanctions lifted, providing Tehran with much-needed foreign currency.
Iran agreed to build 200,000 housing units in Syria in February 2019, but it was unable to proceed, most probably because of US sanctions that drained its foreign currency coffers. It is possible that the old plan is being revived with the anticipation of sanctions being lifted and funds frozen by other countries to be unblocked.
The issue of Iran’s involvement in Syria and close to $30 billion it has spent there, amid its own dire economic situation, has been a contentious issue among Iranians. In protests since 2017, angry Iranians have demanded an end to spending money in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and for propping up the Lebanese Hezbollah and other armed groups in the region.
Mahmoudzadeh’s boss, Mohammad Eslami visited Syria last week and pledged to help Damascus in the reconstruction of the country.
Syria has few allies, with Russia and Iran as its only major backers. Russia seems to be committed only to the military protection of Bashar al-Assad’s government, which in 2016 was on the brink of collapse and was saved by the Russian air force and tens-of-thousands of ground forces organized and deployed by Iran.
Iranian officials have hinted in the past that Syria’s reconstruction will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and after spending so much blood and treasure, Iran expects to have a big piece of the pie. But so far, there is no money, and no one is about to give the Syrian government any money or credit for reconstruction.
In November 2019, Syria and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding to also rebuild the country’s electricity grid. IRNA reported at the time that the agreement covered the construction of power plants, transmission lines and the possibility of connecting their power grids via Iraq.
Iran is currently experiencing extensive power cuts in its major cities due to its insufficient power-generation and distribution infrastructure. Tehran has failed to make the necessary investments to keep its power industry in par with the ever-increasing demand for electricity.