Thumbing its nose at international economic sanctions, Iran decided Tuesday to grant Syria free trade status.
The Iranian Minister of Transportation and Housing Ali Nikzad flew to Damascus to share the news that the Iranian parliament approved the free trade agreement, which he hopes will enhance cooperation between the countries.
Iran’s Press TV reports:
Mr. Nikzad reaffirmed his country's support for Syria and keenness on having best relations in all fields.
In turn, The Syrian minister of economy Mr. Mohammad Nedal al-Sha'ar called on Iranian businessmen and companies to invest in Syria.
He added that the committee's meetings will focus on cooperation in the economic, trade, housing, transport, and tourist and banking sectors.
With both Iran and Syria subject to international economic sanctions, the bill mandates free trade over the next five years. According to AFP:
[Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission] Allaedin Boroujerdi said the proposed pact was "a firm response" to the United States and its allies "investing billions of dollars to change the political structure of the Syrian government."
…"Iran stands next to Syria and remains committed to developing bilateral relations," the Iranian minister [Ali Nikzad] said upon arrival in Damascus, according to SANA.
This agreement offers much needed moral and economic support for the isolated regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Though Iranian officials recently criticized the harsh response of Assad’s Syrian security forces against demonstrators, the two countries have been staunch regional allies, comprising a sort of Shi’ite “axis of evil” including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Bashar Assad and the senior Syrian leadership are Alawites, belonging to the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
Damascus has for decades hosted the headquarters of major Palestinian terrorist groups including Hamas and the Marxist groups the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Most notably, Syria has been a conduit for the transfer of Iranian arms and treasure to Hezbollah military operatives in next-door Lebanon who have used those weapons to target Israeli civilians in Northern Israel.
In the past, Iran and Syria have traded freely in support for terrorism. The efficacy of their free trade economic partnership in more savory fields remains to be seen.
The question also remains: Will private Iranian investors want to invest in a country in the grips of raging civil unrest?