Putin, Ne­tanyahu talk endgame in Syria, Iran role in re­gion.

Moscow at cen­ter of diplo­macy

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Staff writer Carlo Munoz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

MOSCOW | Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin hosted Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and one of Iran’s top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in sep­a­rate meet­ings Wednes­day ahead of next week’s sum­mit with Pres­i­dent Trump, a sum­mit widely ex­pected to fo­cus on the Syr­ian civil war and the fu­ture of Iran’s pres­ence in the coun­try.

While Mr. Putin and Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s del­e­ga­tion sat down for talks in the Krem­lin, Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, a se­nior ad­viser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, was trav­el­ing to Moscow.

Sep­a­rately, Mr. Trump and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron on the side­lines of the NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels re­port­edly agreed on a plan to push Mid­dle East al­lies Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and Jor­dan to start their own talks on way to put an end to Syria’s seven-year civil war. With the Syr­ian regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad seen as close to a mil­i­tary vic­tory in the war, the pres­ence of for­eign pow­ers in­side Syria — in­clud­ing Rus­sia, Iran, Hezbol­lah and Tur­key is emerg­ing as an ur­gent pri­or­ity.

Is­rael in par­tic­u­lar has warned it will not tol­er­ate a large Ira­nian pres­ence in­side Syria, par­tic­u­larly in the bor­der re­gion along the Golan Heights.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu un­der­lined warm ties be­tween Rus­sia and Is­rael, em­pha­siz­ing what he de­scribed as their key sta­bi­liz­ing role for the Mideast.

“Ev­ery visit like this is an op­por­tu­nity for us to act to­gether and try and sta­bi­lize the sit­u­a­tion in our re­gion and in­crease se­cu­rity and in­crease sta­bil­ity,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu said. “Ob­vi­ously, our fo­cus is on Syria and Iran. Our opin­ion is known that Iran needs to leave Syria — that is not some­thing new for you.”

Is­rael has re­peat­edly said it will not al­low Iran, or its Shi­ite prox­ies, to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent pres­ence in a post­war Syria.

Mr. Vely­ati told Iran’s state-owned news ser­vice upon ar­riv­ing in Moscow that he hoped to strengthen his govern­ment’s “strate­gic re­la­tion­ship” with Rus­sia and co­or­di­nated pol­icy on Syria in his talks with Mr. Putin.

“Only a strate­gic and long-term re­la­tion­ship [with Rus­sia] can con­tinue this co­op­er­a­tion,” Mr. Vely­ati told the news ser­vice.

Rus­sia, whose mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion proved crit­i­cal to sav­ing Mr. As­sad’s regime, has said it un­der­stands Is­rael’s con­cerns but has also warned it would be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect Iran to fully with­draw from the coun­try.

Me­dia re­ports sug­gested that at Mon­day’s meet­ing in Helsinki, Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump could reach a deal to de­ploy Syr­ian govern­ment forces along­side the Is­raeli bor­der, with­draw­ing all Ira­nian forces and their proxy Hezbol­lah mili­tia from the area.

“We know about your con­cerns, let’s have a thor­ough talk about them,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Ne­tanyahu be­fore re­porters were asked to leave the room.

Ira­nian of­fi­cials have ex­changed harsh words with the Ne­tanyahu govern­ment, but have largely re­frained from Is­raeli at­tacks on Ira­nian po­si­tions in­side Syria. Tehran is widely seen as hop­ing to win a large chunk of the work in re­build­ing Syria to jus­tify its in­ter­ven­tion, a job said to run into the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars.

In a re­minder of the volatile sit­u­a­tion, Mr. Ne­tanyahu pointed at an in­ci­dent ear­lier Wednes­day in which the Is­raeli mil­i­tary fired a Pa­triot mis­sile to shoot down a drone that had in­fil­trated Is­raeli airspace from Syria.

“We will con­tinue to act de­ci­sively against any spillover and any in­fil­tra­tion of Is­raeli ter­ri­tory or airspace,” he said.

Rus­sian De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu said in an in­ter­view with Ital­ian news­pa­per Il Gior­nale pub­lished Wednes­day that Moscow hopes that Is­rael and Iran will both dis­play cau­tion and avoid a show­down.

“Their use of mil­i­tary force in Syria would in­evitably lead to an es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions across the en­tire Mid­dle East re­gion,” he said. “In that con­text, we rely on peace­ful diplo­matic means to re­solve any dif­fer­ences and ex­pect both sides to show re­straint.”

Both Wash­ing­ton and Moscow have talked of bring­ing home some of their troops from Syria if the sit­u­a­tion can be sta­bi­lized.

Mr. Trump has talked of re­mov­ing some 2,000 U.S. troops in eastern Syria now fight­ing the rem­nants of Is­lamic State and other ji­hadi forces.

“We’ve had a tremen­dous mil­i­tary suc­cess against ISIS,” he said in an April White House news con­fer­ence. “I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start re­build­ing our na­tion.”

Late last month, Moscow an­nounced plans for a mas­sive mil­i­tary draw­down in Syria.Just over 1,100 Rus­sian sol­diers and over 20 jet fight­ers and at­tack he­li­copters have been with­drawn from front­line po­si­tions in­side the coun­try.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“We know about your con­cerns, let’s have a thor­ough talk about them,” said Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (right) to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu dur­ing their meet­ing at the Krem­lin in Moscow on Wednes­day about strate­gies in Syria.

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