Russia-US “handshake” on Syrian issue: An anticipated move

Wednesday, 2018-07-18 15:08:14
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US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The Syrian crisis was one of the major issues discussed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump during their meeting in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. The global public touched on the possibility that Russia and the US would “shake hands” over the issue of Syria, or orchestrate relationships between the parties concerned. The question is whether it could change the course of the war in Syria?

During their talks in Helsinki, both President Putin and President Trump confirmed the leading role of Moscow and Washington in resolving the Syrian crisis. For the Kremlin Palace leader, the meeting offered an opportunity to persuade the White House boss to be more flexible on the Syrian issue, in the hope that Washington would show restraint in its activities in the Middle East nation. Similarly, the event was also a convenient time for the US side to put forward requests aiming to “bargain” with Russia on the issue of mitigating Iran’s role in Syria and the region.

The face-to-face dialogue between the Russian and US President took place in the context of Russia’s proactive position in its mediating role for the Syrian crisis. Russia has shown its superiority to the US both in the field and in the mechanism of peace talks. However, the voice of Washington in this crisis cannot be denied, as the US has long given Syrian opposition considerable backing. The previous tension between Russia and the US, together with an opposite approach between the two sides, has made the Syrian crisis difficult to be ended. The two powers support the two rival factions in Syria, so if there is no concession, there will be no solution to the problem.

Meanwhile, in reality, the US seems to be in a “dilemma” as Washington’s support for the Kurdish forces in Syria has broken its ties with Turkey, pushing Ankara to join hands with Moscow on the Syrian issue. The US supports a number of opposition forces in Syria, both directly and indirectly, but it is difficult to determine exactly which side they support. The US supports the Kurdish forces, an important partner in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), but cannot maintain such support until the end because the Kurdish forces run counter to a US ally, Turkey. In that situation, Washington cannot recognise an autonomous regime for the Kurds in the Middle East. And, a possibility of partnering with Russia is an option for the US at present, which could work to set up “stress-reduction zones” in many Syrian territories, helping Washington to avoid being deeply involved in the war in Syria, while alleviating the concerns of its ally, Turkish, on the Kurdish issue.

The situation became more complicated when a dangerous confrontation between Iran and Israel occurred on the Syrian battlefront. Israeli fighters fired rockets at several military positions of Syria and Iran in the area near the Golan Heights and were repelled. Israel is concerned of the growing influence of Iran-backed Muslim movement, Hezbollah, in the region. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned that Israel will not allow Iran to increase its military presence in Syria, making it a “stepping stone” for jeopardising the security of the Jewish State.

Therefore, during the summit in Helsinki, the role of Iran in the region was one of the issues discussed by the Russian and US leaders. With an anti-Iran viewpoint, US President Trump wanted to persuade Russia to use its influence to curb Tehran. However, according to analysts, it is not easy for this to happen, as Iran still remains an important partner of Russia in Syria. In the immediate future, the Russian and US leaders stated that they had discussed the importance of ensuring Israel’s security.

Certain experts stated that the Russia-US cooperation plays a crucial role in the key issues of the Middle East region. Amid the complicated developments of the Syrian crisis due to the parties concerned seeking to intervene to protect and compete for national interests in the Middle East, the “handshake” between Russia and the US is noticeable and anticipated. This can both benefit the two sides and contribute to cooling down the tensions in the region.