Iran will be the likely loser when Trump and Putin meet

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TODD WOOD

With the Helsinki sum­mit ap­proach­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, the sit­u­a­tion on the ground in the Mid­dle East is re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent than it was just a very short time ago.

Iran, once well on its way to be­com­ing the hege­mon in the re­gion, is rapidly be­ing marginal­ized. In fact, you could say the regime is on its way to col­lapse, un­der­mined by forces from within.

Mr. Trump’s help was cru­cial, of course. The com­ing U.S. sanc­tions, ac­cord­ing to Sec­re­tary of State Pom­peo, will be dev­as­tat­ing. With the regime hav­ing spent all its money on the wars in Syria and Iraq, if oil rev­enues go to zero, it’s game over for the mul­lahs.

The killers in Tehran know this. This is why Iran dis­patched Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, an ad­viser to Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei on for­eign is­sues, to Moscow this week to de­liver a threat to Mr. Putin: Do not make a deal with Mr. Trump or your forces in Syria may suf­fer.

Iran and Rus­sia have forces in Syria bol­ster­ing the As­sad regime. With the Krem­lin hav­ing wound down the bulk of its forces in­side Syria, Iran is re­sist­ing grow­ing pres­sure to give up its firmly en­trenched po­si­tions in Syria, Le­banon and Iraq.

But Rus­sia no longer needs any­thing that Iran has to give. One rea­son for Mr. Putin’s sup­port of the Iran deal and for the regime it­self has been for help in prop­ping up the As­sad govern­ment, a long-term Soviet/Rus­sian ally. Mr. Putin would un­der­stand­ably like to pre­serve the Rus­sian navy base at the port of Tar­tus and its ac­cess to the air­fields near Latakia.

But the main rea­son Mr. Putin had sought good re­la­tions with Iran had been sim­ply for money, some­thing Tehran will have far less of in the fu­ture. The Rus­sian leader may just tell the mul­lahs, “It’s just not work­ing out.”

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this all goes down over the next few weeks. There are re­ports that Rus­sia has es­sen­tially given as­sur­ances to Mr. Trump and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu that Moscow will sup­port Iran’s with­drawal from south­ern Syria — where it threat­ens the Golan — in ex­change for sanc­tions re­lief and even a pos­si­ble U.S. recog­ni­tion of Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. Bibi has vis­ited Moscow no less than eight times in the re­cent past, seek­ing as­sur­ances that the Ira­nian fight­ers will not be al­lowed in po­si­tions just across the Syr­ian bor­der from Is­rael.

Ira­nian lead­ers are scared. Mr. Trump has them in a box, and they know it. The State Depart­ment is warn­ing of an uptick in state-spon­sored ter­ror­ism from Iran, as it lashes out over its new iso­la­tion and weak­ened po­si­tion. An Ira­nian diplo­mat was just ar­rested in Ger­many for or­ga­niz­ing and equip­ping a sleeper cell plan­ning to bomb the “Free Iran Gath­er­ing” of ex­iled dis­si­dents in Paris re­cently.

Mr. Putin will have to make a choice. His econ­omy is still very weak, al­though higher oil prices have taken off some of the pres­sure. Growth is still ex­pected to be around 1 per­cent. Western sanc­tions are bit­ing. He re­ally can no longer af­ford an open-ended war in Syria. It is ex­pen­sive and leaves Rus­sian armed forces overex­tended.

It was good for a while to show Rus­sia’s new ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but now it’s get­ting old.

So Rus­sia needs to cut a deal. And Mr. Putin is ne­go­ti­at­ing with Mr. Trump, the best ne­go­tia­tor in the world.

The mul­lahs in Tehran should not ex­pect Vladimir Putin to save them.

● L. Todd Wood is a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions he­li­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Busi­ness, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Re­view, the New York Post and many other publi­ca­tions. He can be reached through his web­site, LTod­

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