The January 26 meeting between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hossein Amir Abdollahian is another important sign that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has at best very little influence over Iran’s Syria’s policy. The official title of Amir Abdollahian is “Director General of International Affairs” at the Iranian parliament, the Majlis. However, this generic title given to Abdullahian is in no way a true reflection of his power in Tehran and the critical base of support he enjoys. Abdollahian, a former ambassador to Bahrain, is very close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and particularly Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Qods Force.

Abdollahian was until last year officially the top diplomat in the Iranian Foreign Ministry in charge of Arab affairs, which included the Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen files. Zarif replaced Abdollahian in June 2016, which promted angry protests from hardliners in the Majlis.

There was at the time speculation that the removal of Abdollahian was a sign by Rouhani and Zarif of a desire by Tehran to moderate its regional policies. However, a new position was created and Abdollahian swiftly became “Director General of International Affairs” for the speaker of the parliament, a position that has never carried any significance. The fact that Abdollahian is the man that Tehran has sent to Damascus to hold talks with Assad shows that not only does the IRGC still fully control Iran’s Syria policy but that it is fully prepared to flaunt it in the most conspicuous fashion.