by Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer
Russia is seeking to convince the U.S. to accept an Iranian role in a plan for foreign troops to police safe zones in Syria as a step toward ending the six-year war.
The U.S. and Iran must show “compromise and flexibility” in helping to secure the so-called de-escalation zones proposed by Russia to shore up a Syrian cease-fire, President Vladimir Putin’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, told reporters in Sochi on Thursday. Russia is trying to mediate between the U.S. and Iran, though it’s under “no illusions” about the difficulties, he said.
“Does anyone think Iran is going to leave this region and Syria, as if you could wave a magic wand and Iran would disappear?” Bogdanov said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday that he hoped the U.S. would “make an active contribution” to securing the safe zones. Lavrov suggested the U.S. may “initiate” the process in southern Syria near the borders with Israel and Jordan. Russia, Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum on creating four zones at talks involving the Syrian government and opposition groups in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, last week.
Russia believes the U.S. should help to enforce the cease-fire in Syria, though it would have to gain approval from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to deploy any troops to safe zones, Bogdanov said. Trump’s pragmatic approach as “a businessman who loves practical results” is encouraging Russia to “hope that life eventually puts everything in its place” to help end the conflict, he said.
While the U.S. recognizes the parts played by Russia and Turkey in the Astana peace process, it regards Iran as having “an unconstructive role in the region” that it “can’t praise under any circumstances,” Bogdanov said. A compromise that enables U.S. and Iranian forces to help control separate safe zones in Syria “requires additional political and diplomatic efforts” and Russia “will continue to work,” he said.
Bottom of Form
Assad managed to turn the tide of war in his favor after Russia started an air campaign in September 2015, while Iran is an uncompromising supporter of the Syrian leader. Continued fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels backed by the U.S. and its allies including Turkey and Saudi Arabia stand in the way of a political settlement. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people and sent millions more fleeing.
Putin said after talks with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi last week that he’d secured Trump’s backing for the plan to establish safe zones. Russia has long urged the U.S. to join forces with it in Syria. But Trump’s campaign pledge to cooperate with Putin on defeating Islamic State has run into resistance from Republicans and Democrats who are pushing for a harder line toward Moscow over its meddling in the U.S. election, support for Assad and interference in Ukraine.