Trump and Putin praise Israel in Helsinki, diverge on Syria and Iran

Source: Trump and Putin praise Israel in Helsinki, diverge on Syria and Iran – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

Trump spoke as “we,” which apparently indicated Moscow and Washington both working with Israel and “Israel working with us.”

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 JULY 17, 2018 17:50
U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russian President Vladimir Putin

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Israel, Syria and Iran in their meeting in Helsinki and in subsequent comments to the press. The public comments provide some insight into their view of the future of the Middle East. With the Syrian regime conducting a major offensive in the south and the US deeply involved in eastern Syria, while Israel demands the Iranians leave, this was a central topic of concern in Helsinki.

Trump went first with a discussion of Israel. According to a transcript published by NPR he said, “we’ve worked with Israel long and hard for many years.” He pointed out that the US has never been closer to Israel than it is today. “President Putin also is helping Israel and we both spoke with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Bibi Netanyahu and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel.” He spoke as “we,” which apparently indicated Moscow and Washington both working with Israel and “Israel working with us.” He continued, “I think they’re working with Israel is a great thing and creating safety for Israel is something bother President Putin and I would like to see very much.”

Putin argued that Russia was helping to “crush terrorists in the southwest of Syria.” He mentioned the 1974 ceasefire lines on the Golan. “This will bring peace to Golan heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel and also to provide security for the state of Israel.” He said that he paid “special attention” to the issue when sitting with Trump.

The two also discussed the future of Syria. Trump claimed that the US military was successfully coordinating with Russia in Syria.

“Our militaries do get along very well,” he said. Putin said that Russia was working to establish peace and reconciliation. “Russia and the United States apparently can act proactively and take leadership on this issue.” He emphasized the coordination between the US and Russian militaries in Syria helped avoid “dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions.”

Putin elaborated that the crucial issue now was relating to refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. “If we help them, the migratory pressure upon the European states will drop.” He mentioned that Russia was working closely with Turkey and Iran, “so that we will be able to maximize our fighting change together for ultimate success in the issue of Syria.”

Putin shrugged off a question about the “ball” being in Russia’s court in terms of deciding what’s next in Syria. He said he would hand the ball to Trump, and made a joke about the World Cup. Trump agreed that humanitarian concerns were a key for the people of Syria.

On Iran, Putin said that the Iranian nuclear deal had helped ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.” Trump emphasized the need to pressure Iran and “stop its campaign of violence throughout the area, throughout the Middle East.” The US President then said that the US would not allow Iran to benefit from the defeat of ISIS.  Trump claimed ISIS had been defeated 99%. He said Russia was helping.

So what was said and unsaid? Both Putin and Trump appeared to understand and to some extent support Israel’s concerns regarding Syria. They were keyed in to Jerusalem’s policy, which has included airstrikes on Iranian threats in Syria over the last six years. The use of the word “us” and “we” to describe Israel’s relationship with Moscow and Washington points to an unprecedented level of understanding between Jerusalem and the two world powers. Probably never before have Moscow and Washington been closer in terms of listening to Israel’s concerns. The fact that both Washington and Moscow have their own agendas in Syria, neither of which always mesh with Israel’s agenda was left unsaid. The fact is that Russia cannot remove Iran from Syria, which is Israel’s main goal. Washington also has not committed to a mission to rollback Iran in Syria, still concentrating resources on defeating ISIS.

Putin sees Iran as an important player in the region and not as an adversary. He would like to work more closely with Turkey as well. Trump meanwhile is adamantly opposed to Iran. Here the two leaders expressed differences. Putin was noticeably tight lipped about his views of Tehran’s policies. This could point to growing daylight between Moscow and Iran but it more likely points to Putin’s tendency towards generalization that allows Russia more room to maneuver. The US prefers clearly stated goals, while Russia prefers the veneer of discussion international law, while the opaque nature of Moscow’s actual policy relating to Iran in places like Syria.

Overall the meeting between the two leaders was weak on substance. Prior to the summit some in Israel had pushed stories about Russia agreeing some sort of concept where Iran leaves Syria when the conflict is done. But after Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin and then after Trump’s meeting it is clear that there will be no clear comment about Iran’s future role in Syria, or about Israel’s continued opposition to any Iranian forces remaining.

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