U.S., Russian, Israeli reach understanding that Iranian forces leave Syria

Trump and Putin are expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan this weekend.

June 25, 2019 23:28
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, Moscow o

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, Moscow on April 4th, 2019. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

US, Russia and Israeli broadly concurred during a historic trilateral meeting on Tuesday that Iranian forces will leave Syria, but no agreement was reached as to how or when that might happen.

“We are determined to remove Iran from Syria,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The two superpowers, together with Israel, agree that we must aspire to the goal in which all foreign forces that have entered Syria since 2011 leave Syria. The issue will also be discussed between presidents [Donald] Trump and [Vladimir] Putin. I hope that the continuation will be in Israel soon because we have a goal that we want to achieve in order to add to the security and stability of the region and to the security of the State of Israel.”

Trump and Putin are expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan this weekend.

Netanyahu spoke with reporters after meeting in Jerusalem with Russian, US and Israeli national security advisers Nikolai Patrushev, John Bolton and Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Bolton similarly told reporters after the meeting that there was such an understanding, with Russian President Vladimir Putin concurring on this point already last year.

“It is not a question about a disagreement about the outcome, but a mutual effort to find a way to make it happen,” Bolton said. In the US view, that should happen concurrently with an Iranian commitment to halt its pursuit of producing nuclear weapons.

Talks are expected to be held between the three countries to develop a plan to remove the forces. According to KAN News, Russia agreed in the interim to ensure that Iranian forces and weapons will remain 100 kilometers away from Israel’s border. Russia is also expected to seek concessions from the US in exchange for the Iranian withdrawal from Syria.

Patrushev struck a much less conciliatory note in a news conference after the meeting. He spoke strongly in support of Iran and against Israeli and US efforts to brand Iran as a destabilizing force in the region.

“Iran has been and will be an ally and partner of ours with which we have gradually developing ties for quite some time, both bilaterally and multilaterally,” Patrushev said. “Any attempts to make Tehran look like the main threat to global security, to put it in the same basket as ISIS or any other terror group, are unacceptable. Iran has been contributing a lot to the fight against terrorism in Syria, helping to stabilize the situation. We call upon our partners to exercise restraint and to take efforts to alleviate the concerns and tensions. Efforts should be made to decrease tensions between Israel and Iran.”

Patrushev said he believed that the US drone Iran shot down was in Iranian airspace at the time it was destroyed by Iranian fire.

Patrushev said that Israeli airstrikes against Iranian military largest in Syria were “unwelcome,” adding: “We said we need a more efficient cooperation between the ministries of defense of Russia and Israel. Many of the airstrikes could have been prevented. That is the way to alleviate the concerns for Israel, and we need to alleviate the concerns of Israel by non-military means.”

Steps have to be taken to “decrease tension between Israel and Tehran by taking steps on both sides toward that goal,” Patrushev said. “Syria should not become a geopolitical arena for confrontation.”

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said there was “a wider basis for cooperation” between the three countries “than many believe.” But he underscored that as long as Iran remained in Syria, Israel reserved the right to act against it when it posed a threat.

“Israel has acted hundreds of times to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu said, adding, “Israel will continue to prevent Iran from using neighboring territory as platforms to attack us, and Israel will respond forcibly to any such attacks.”

Netanyahu thanked Russia for working out a deconfliction mechanism with Israel that allows it to operate in Syria without the risk of harming Russian forces stationed there.

“All three of us [Israel, Russia and the US] would like to see a peaceful, stable and secure Syria,” Netanyahu said. “We also have a common objective to achieve that goal... that no foreign forces that arrived in Syria after 2011 remain in Syria.”

Such an outcome, Netanyahu said, “will be good for Russia, good for the US, good for Israel and good for Syria.”

Bolton is in Israel at a period of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. He had harsh words for Iran, even as he asked Tehran to negotiate a peaceful outcome to the conflict between the two countries.

Iran should not view the US decision to hold back from launching a retaliatory military strike against it as cowardice, Bolton said, repeating twice to reporters that Iran “should not mistake restraint as a sign of weakness.”

Iran, he said, must halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons and “all options are on the table” until it does. “They should give up their pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons. They should make that strategic step, they have not done it yet.”

Prior to the meeting, Bolton said that US President Donald Trump “has held the door open for real negotiations, to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support of international terrorism and its other maligning behavior worldwide. All Iran needs to do is walk through that open door.”

Bolton noted that other top US officials – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Special Representative on Iran Brian Hook – were also in the region to discuss Iran with Arab leaders.

“As we speak, US diplomats are surging across the Middle East seeking a path to peace,” Bolton said. “In response, Iran’s silence is deafening.”

“Iran’s provocations, which also include threats to and acts upon American personnel and assets in the Middle East, are the external manifestations of the essential threat Iran poses, namely its continued pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons,” Bolton said. “There is simply no evidence that Iran has made the strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons and open realistic discussion to demonstrate that decision.

“In just a few days – perhaps by the end of the week – Iran has threatened to exceed the key limits possessed by the inadequate 2015 nuclear deal, exposing once again the fatal deficiencies of that failed agreement,” Bolton said.

“All around the Middle East, we see Iran as the source of belligerence and aggression,” he said, giving as examples its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, its assistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the arming of militia groups in Iraq, the weaponizing of the Houthis in Yemen, its support of terrorist activities against US forces in Afghanistan and its threat to oil supplies.

Bolton said that the trilateral meeting was taking place at a “particularly critical moment.” The US envoy also spoke glowingly of Netanyahu’s leadership and the role he plays in maintaining Israeli security.

The trilateral meeting, Bolton said to Netanyahu, “is a tribute to your leadership and a recognition of the central role that Israel does and must play in securing international peace and security. Through your strong relationships with both President Putin and President Trump, there is a substantially greater prospect for coordination of our perspective policies in order to achieve a secure and lasting peace in the region.”

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday that Iran has no reason left to carry out commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal without reciprocation from the remaining European partners, the Fars News Agency reported.

Iran will announce on July 7 a new reduction of its commitments under the nuclear deal, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani said on Tuesday.

US sanctions against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are an attack against the nation, Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei tweeted on Tuesday.

“Sanctioning #the supreme leader, who for the first time issued Fatwa against all forms of #WMD, is a direct attack to a nation,” he wrote on Twitter in English. “This action will increase the unity of Iranian people.”

Tweeted Trump: “Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force.”

Reuters contributed to this report

Related Content

September 17, 2019
Journalist Cokie Roberts, who wrote about her interfaith marriage, dies