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July 18, 2018 12:39 pm

Russian Envoy Briefs Iranian Regime on Trump-Putin Summit’s Syria Message

avatar by Ben Cohen

Alexander Lavrentiev, the Russian president’s special envoy to Syria. Photo: File.

A top Russian envoy arrived in Tehran on Wednesday to brief Iranian leaders following this week’s summit in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.

Iranian state media outlets reported that Alexander Lavrentiev — a senior member of the Russian negotiating team at Monday’s summit in Helsinki who serves as Putin’s special presidential envoy to Syria — would be discussing the implications of the summit for Iran’s military presence in Syria.

Both the Iranian regime and Russia have been closely allied in stabilizing the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad over the past five years. Several human rights groups have charged both countries with participating in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. Last April, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, told the UN Security Council that there were up to 80,000 troops and allied Shia militia fighters in Syria under Iranian command.

Lavrentiev, Putin’s envoy, has been working closely with the Assad regime, Iran and Turkey to deliver a “political solution” to the brutal civil war in Syria, in which 500,000 people have died and nearly 14 million — more than half the country’s population — have been driven from their homes. The Russian-backed Astana peace process recognizes Iran and Turkey alongside Russia as the collective “guarantors” of an eventual political settlement in Syria.

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But that goal may now be complicated by Putin and Trump’s emphasis of Israel’s security as a central element in the context of a Syrian settlement. Israel has repeatedly told Russia that it will not tolerate the presence of Iranian forces on its northern border — itself the consequence of Tehran’s attempt to carve out a secure land corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea through its military interventions in Iraq and Syria.

While Putin did not directly address the ousting of Iranian forces from Syria during his remarks in Helsinki, he strongly advocated a return to the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Syria and Israel, in order to bring “peace to Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also to provide security of the state of Israel.” More broadly, the Russian leader touted “the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in Syria ” as potentially “the first showcase example of successful joint work” involving the US and Russia.

Trump also avoided specific mention of Iran’s presence in Syria, as he emphasized that Russia was positively committed to Israel’s security.

“President Putin also is helping Israel,” Trump claimed. The US president continued, “We both spoke with [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu, and they would like to do certain things with respect to Syria having to do with the safety of Israel.”

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