A deal on the pullback of pro-Iranian militias from Syria’s border with Israel is being pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of his upcoming summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The two leaders will meet in Helsinski on Monday for talks focusing on the Iranian military presence in Syria where it has provided crucial aid to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Both the United States and Israel are concerned about Iran’s desire for influence in the region and seek the removal of Hezbollah and Iranian forces from the flashpoint Syrian-Israeli border.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in a postwar Syria.
For its part, Iran sees its presence as non-negotiable. The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) boasted recently that the “Islamic army in Syria” was awaiting orders to “eradicate the evil regime” of Israel and Iranian proxy terror group Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles aimed at the Jewish state.
Russia, a key ally of al-Assad, has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.
However, there have recently been signs of an emerging compromise among key players and Vladimir Putin is keen to play his part in brokering any agreement.
Putin met Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, at his residence outside Moscow on Thursday. This came a day after he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin, Bloomberg reports.
“On the eve of the summit between Putin and Trump it seems like Russia’s mediation efforts are bearing fruit,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert in Moscow.
Mr. Trump is approaching the meeting by rejecting Barack Obama’s policy of demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, a position the U.S. formulated before Russia intervened militarily to turn the tide of the civil war in Assad’s favor with Iran’s help.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Giornale published Wednesday that Moscow hopes that Israel and Iran will both display caution and avoid a showdown.
“Their use of military force in Syria would inevitably lead to an escalation of tensions across the entire Middle East region,” he said. “In that context, we rely on peaceful diplomatic means to resolve any differences and expect both sides to show restraint.”
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