Aligned on Syria, divided on Iran: Russia, US & Israel meet for trilateral talks on Middle East
National security advisers from Russia, Israel and the US have met in Jerusalem to discuss the situation in the Middle East. While they have managed to find some common ground on Syria, the talks were marred by disputes over Iran.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev met for talks with their Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat in Jerusalem on Tuesday. On the surface, the historic trilateral meeting, that took place at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington are in dire straits, has ended on a positive note as all three sides hailed the fact that they managed to formulate some common goals and find shared interests.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who led the trilateral meeting that lasted for more than two hours, thanked both the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Donald Trump for agreeing to hold the meeting he called “historic” and said he “deeply values [the] strong relationships” Israel has with both nations. He also praised the deconfliction mechanism established by Israel and Russia “that helps [to] ensure that as we defend ourselves, we do not put Russian forces in harm’s way.”
Netanyahu told journalists that all three sides “would like to see a peaceful, stable and secure Syria,” adding that “we also have a common objective to achieve that larger goal, and that is no foreign forces that arrived in Syria after 2011 remain in Syria.” Patrushev then said that he “fully shares” the Israeli prime minister’s position on that issue, adding that it was also equally important to ensure Syria’s national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
“Syria should not be turned into an arena for geopolitical standoff,” he said. Bolton hailed the talks as “productive.” “Current circumstances in the region make our conversations even more timely,” he said.
The US national security advisor, who also separately met with Patrushev ahead of the trilateral meeting, said that the talks in Jerusalem might be conducive to the preparations to a meeting between Putin and Trump at the G20 summit later this week.
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“President Trump looks forward to meeting with President Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka, Japan,” Bolton told journalists, adding that he hopes that “we can lay the groundwork for this meeting over the next several days here in Jerusalem.” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said later in Moscow that the Jerusalem talks could be viewed as part of preparations for the meeting between the two leaders in Japan.
Still, despite the overall positive tone of the meeting, the sides also had some visible disagreements, particularly when it came to Iran and its activities in the region. Patrushev was particularly critical of the Israeli strikes targeting the Syrian territory, which Tel Aviv justifies by the need to counter the Iranian threat.
The Russian national security adviser called such actions “unwelcome” while saying that many such strikes could have been prevented as the situations that sparked concerns in Israel could have been resolved by non-military means. He also called for easing the tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran to avoid turning Syria into an arena of a proxy conflict between the two nations.
Moscow also stood firm against demonizing Iran and portraying it as “the chief threat to regional security” at a time when Washington has launched a political and economic crusade against Tehran while calling it “a source of belligerence and aggression” and accusing it of some “provocations” that, according to Bolton, indicate that Tehran still seeks “deliverable nuclear weapons.”
Russia also expressed skepticism over Iran’s alleged responsibility over the latest incidents in the Gulf of Oman, which Washington blames on Tehran. Patrushev dismissed the footage allegedly depicting Iranian sailors removing a malfunctioning limpet mine from the ship’s hull as “low-grade information” that in itself “doesn’t allow for any decisions to be made.”
The US has been blaming Tehran for attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, which Iran denies, and announced new sanctions in response to Iran downing a US drone they say violated their airspace last week. Washington’s actions sparked a new round of a war of words between Iran and the US.
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