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Did Putin Sell Tehran to Trump?

What to think of the Helsinki Summit

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In the past, in relation with Iran, the Russians have repeatedly bargained their protégés (Mohamad-Ali Shah in 1909, Kuchak Khan in Guilan in 1922, Pishevari in Azerbaijan in 1946) against concessions more strategic in their eyes. Without a doubt, the Caucasus and Ukraine are more important for the military and economic security of Russia than Iran. Did Putin sell Tehran to Trump? A number of elements seem to confirm this.

No communiqué was issued following the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, leaving the field open for speculation. However, in the two leaders’ joint press conference and subsequent interviews and briefings, the outlines of some agreements emerged, especially concerning Syria.

Helsinki Pub
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Both leaders’ remarks hinted that the civil war in Syria was coming to an end, although Putin insisted on the need to crush terrorists in south-west Syria while keeping the forces of Syria and Israel separated. Even though he made no reference to the future status of Iranian troops inside Syria, Trump declared the “United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS”. Earlier, he had emphasised during a May 17 meeting with Bashar al-Assad in Sochi that all “foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

Meanwhile, quiet discreetly, Iranian-backed troops retreated from their positions in Golan to stay 85&km away from Israeli-Syrian border, a move confirmed by Putin’s special envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev who stated: “As we took into account the Israeli concerns, we managed to attain the pullout of Iranian units 85 km from the Israeli-(Syrian) border”. Lavrentiev’s announcement comes a day after Russia’s ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov firmly declaring that the border area would be free of Iranian presence.

Putin went further by suggesting the merge of the Astana talks — Iran, Russia, and Syria — with the “small group” — France, Britain, Germany, Jordan, the US and Saudi Arabia — something that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has sought for more than a year.

Trump’s announcement that he is willing to talk to Iranian President Rouhani took many by surprise and reinforced the impression that the American President had got some advantages in his negotiations with Putin. Even though Rouhani rejected the offer, his advisor Hamid Aboutalebi keep the door open by suggesting that Mr. Rouhani would be willing to meet Mr. Trump if he demonstrated “respect for the great nation of Iran”, and reduced his hostility towards the Islamic republic.

For its popularity, it would help Rouhani if he negotiated with the Americans. Indeed, the most pro-American people in the Middle East are Iranians. Young Iranians are the most moderate people in the Muslim world. They have grown frustrated by the political and economic constraints that have kept them from achieving success. Many, if not most, want to immigrate to North America. Above all, they want their country to be anchored to the Western world in general and the United States in particular.

September is likely to be full of surprises. Let’s bet on a reversal of the situation. ■

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