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May 25, 2017 1:19 pm

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Defies Trump Over Iran’s Middle East Role

avatar by Ben Cohen

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President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov directly challenged US President Donald Trump’s tough stance on Iran this week during a briefing with journalists in Moscow.

Outlets — including Russian state news agency Tass, Iranian official mouthpiece Press TV and Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar — all carried virtually identical reports of Lavrov’s remarks, with Press TV stressing Lavrov’s appreciation for Iran’s “influential role” in Syria’s “peace process.”

“The resolution of problems in the Middle East and North Africa requires the participation of external actors that influence the situation on the ground in one way or another,” Lavrov said. “To a full extent, this also refers to Iran and to what has to be done to settle the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrov also described the Tehran regime as the “nucleus” of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) – a body created in October 2015, three months after the Iran nuclear deal was reached in Geneva, by the Obama administration working in concert with the Russians.

On his inaugural foreign trip, which included stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump consistently called out Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, and voiced strong criticism of the nuclear deal.

“Iran should be very grateful to the United States,” Trump said on Monday during a joint press appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “Iran negotiated a fantastic deal with the previous administration. No matter where we go we see the signs of Iran in the Middle East. … Yemen, Iraq, no matter where we are we see the signs, whether it’s soldiers, whether it’s money and guns. Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they now feel emboldened.”

Iran reacted furiously to Trump’s comments, with Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi accusing the president of “Iranophobia.”

The manner of Lavrov’s dismissal of Trump’s concerns efficiently summarized the Russian approach towards Iran, David Schenker — the Aufzien Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — told The Algemeiner.

“Ultimately, the Russian point of view is that the problem in the Middle East is strictly limited to Sunni Islamic fundamentalism,” Schenker said. “The Russians have yet to experience Shiite militancy as a problem.”

Schenker observed that the Obama administration had shared the Russian view of Iran as “part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

“The Trump administration has moved away from this paradigm, and Trump’s visit to the Middle East really hammered that home,” Schenker said. “That jibes with the Russian perspective.”

In terms of Russia’s reaction, Schenker commented that President Vladimir Putin was “looking for areas of disagreement to accentuate with DC. This issue is red meat for Russia’s constituents in the region — the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, the Shiite militias from Iraq.”

Earlier this month, at Trump’s now infamous White House meeting with Lavrov, the president told his Russian guest that the US expected Moscow to “rein in” Iran and its proxy militias.

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