Trump will demand of Putin a total Iranian exit from Syria — report

Diplomat tells Arabic newspaper US policy doesn’t oppose Assad remaining in power, but okays Israeli strikes on Iran’s military assets in the country

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Donald Trump during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Danang, Vietnam, November 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Donald Trump during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Danang, Vietnam, November 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

US President Donald Trump intends to demand from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a full Iranian pullout from Syria territory, making the subject a priority in talks between the two leaders planned for next month, the Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reported Thursday.

Israel has urged the international community to oppose Iran’s military presence in Syria, fearing its arch-foe will set up forward bases to use in attacks on the Jewish state.

“If the Putin-Trump summit is held on July 15, its core will be to negotiate Washington’s insistence on Iran’s withdrawal from Syria,” a Western diplomat told the London-based daily.

Iran, along with Russia, has been providing military assistance to the Bashar Assad regime in its battle against rebels.

US officials, the diplomat was quoted as saying, are convinced that Russia would be unwilling to “pay a heavy price” for Iran’s continued presence in Syria.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

The diplomat, who was not identified in the report, also said Washington had given Israel a “green light” to strike Iranian military assets in Syria. The Jewish state has vowed to use any means necessary to prevent Iranian military entrenchment and has carried out several airstrikes on targets in Syria to enforce its policy. Numerous other strikes, attributed to Israel but not officially admitted to, have also targeted weapons shipments to the Hezbollah terror group, an Iranian proxy in Lebanon and Syria.

Unconfirmed media reports have said Israel has also obtained Russian agreement to strike Iranian targets in Syria. Other reports have said that Iran-backed troops have withdrawn recently from Syria’s border with Israel at Russia’s insistence.

The diplomat told Al-Hayat that the US is open to the idea of Assad staying in power and does not oppose the regime retaking all areas it lost to rebels groups during the seven-year civil war.

Russia and the US are already in agreement that the two Salafist Jihadist rebel groups in southern Syria — the al-Nusra Front and the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army — should both be disarmed, the diplomat said.

Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the Daraa province countryside during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 27, 2018. (Mohamad ABAZEED/AFP)

Jordan also opposes an Iranian presence on its borders or any Syrian people, displaced by the war, on Jordanian territory, he noted. There are estimated to be some 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan, roughly half of whom are registered as refugees.

Russia, the US, and Jordan already agreed in 2017 to a deescalation zone for southern Syria, which borders on Israel and Jordan, but some fighting has continued. Over the past two weeks the Syrian army launched a heavy offensive against rebel strongholds in the Daraa province, a key rebel-held area.

On Wednesday a foreign affairs adviser to Putin said Moscow and Washington had reached an agreement on the date and location for a summit between the US and Russian leaders.

The time, venue and other details of the summit will be announced jointly by the Kremlin and the White House on Thursday, the adviser said.

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