No consensus in Israel-US-Russia summit over Iran role in Syria

Observers said the summit isn’t likely to result in major policy changes in Syria.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R), US national security adviser John Bolton (C-L), Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev (R) and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) take part in a trilateral summit in Jerusalem, June 25. (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-R), US national security adviser John Bolton (C-L), Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev (R) and Israeli National Security Advisor take part in a trilateral summit in Jerusalem. (AFP)

LONDON - Israel hosted a trilateral summit with the United States and Russia in Jerusalem to discuss “regional security” with a focus on the role of Iran in Syria but public statements from the participating officials indicated that they have failed to reach a consensus.

The summit was held on June 25 and attended by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, US national security adviser John Bolton, Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Netanyahu called for the three countries to agree on expelling foreign forces from neighbouring Syria. He stressed that Israel would not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence there. He said removing Iranian forces from Syria will “create a more stable Middle East.”

Bolton said “the United States would very much like to get rid of foreign forces from Syria,” in a reference to Iran. Bolton said the Iranian forces are “a problem in Syria.” He said there was “a wider basis for cooperation between the three of us than many believe.”

Patrushev rebuffed US and Israeli attempts to isolate Iran and urged showing “restraint” towards Tehran.

“Any attempts to make Tehran look like the main threat to global security, to put it in the same basket as [the Islamic State] or any other terror group are unacceptable. Iran has been contributing a lot to the fight against terrorism in Syria, helping to stabilise the situation,” said Patrushev.

He called on Israel and the United States to encourage a political settlement in Syria. Iran and Russia are backing Syrian President Bashar Assad against rebel forces.

“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.

Bolton said Iran is refusing to respond to a US offer to negotiate. “The (US) president has held the door open to real negotiations,” Bolton told journalists in Jerusalem. “In response, Iran’s silence has been deafening,” he added.

Bolton also warned that “all options remain on the table” if Iran exceeds the uranium enrichment limit under the 2015 deal.

The summit came amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran in the Arabian Gulf. The United States accused Iran of involvement in a series of attacks in the Gulf, charges that were denied by Tehran.

“Iran has engaged over the past couple of months in a long series of unprovoked and unjustifiable attacks,” Bolton said.

The United States accused Iran of shooting down a US drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz earlier in June. Iran said the US drone was flying over Iranian airspace.

Patrushev said Russian intelligence has concluded the US drone had entered Iranian airspace.

“I have information from the defence ministry of the Russian Federation that this drone was in Iranian airspace,” Russian news agencies quoted Patrushev as telling reporters in Jerusalem.

Patrushev said Russia pays “special attention to ensuring Israel’s security” but stressed that Iran “was and remains our ally and partner.”

Netanyahu said that all three parties agree that Iranian forces should leave Syria but there was no agreement on how or when that would take place.

“We are determined to remove Iran from Syria. 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,” Netanyahu said.

“The issue will also be discussed between Presidents [Donald] Trump and [Vladimir] Putin.  The US and Russian presidents are expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan.

Patrushev said Russia is working to address the issue with Iran. Tehran denies plans to have permanent troops in Syria. Both Iran and Russia say their presence in Syria is based on an invitation of the Assad regime.

Patrushev said that Israeli air strikes against Iranian military targets in Syria were “unwelcome” but Israel has vowed to continue targeting Hezbollah assets near the Israeli border.

Observers said that summit isn’t likely to result in major policy changes in Syria.

“I doubt even there is going to be any serious limitation of the Iranians in Syria as a result of this meeting although the Russians may continue to acquiesce in Israeli strikes at the Iranians so long as Russian material or especially personnel are not directly harmed by it,” Gideon Remez, an associate fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute in Jerusalem, told Xinhua news agency.

“For the time being, there has not been a direct clash. So the Russians are not seeking a confrontation with Israel; they have no reason to, but they are more committed to the Iran-Assad-Hezbollah axis than they are to Israel and if they have to make a choice, I think it will go in that direction,” added Remez.

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