Many were wondering at the time what Presidents Trump and Putin were talking about when they met for two hours behind closed doors in Helsinki last July, raising speculations regarding Trump’s troubles from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of a collusion between the two prior to the 2016 elections. There was a lot of that, as well as a discussion of extending two arms control treaties between the US and Russia. But reports emerging from the White House on Thursday suggest that secret meeting was mostly devoted to Iran’s presence in Syria.
Both Reuters and Bloomberg, citing a White House official who insisted on his anonymity, reported the two leaders came to an agreement that Iran must exit Syria. The Russian leader said getting Iran out “would be difficult,” but agreed in principle that it must be accomplished, sooner or later.
Since the Helsinki summit with the US president, Russia has continued its cooperation with Iran, along with Turkey, on governing post-civil war Russia, with all three countries carving out strategic portions of the country for their own military use. Which suggests that when the Russian president agreed that Iran should be out of Syria, he meant it should happen some time in the future.
On the other hand, the Russians did insist that Iran and its proxy forces pull away some 50 miles from Israel’s border in the Golan Heights.
The same anonymous White House official also suggested that when national security adviser John Bolton meets with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva next week, Iran’s presence in Syria will take up much of their conversation.
Averyanov and Bolton last met on June 27, in Moscow, and, according to TASS, discussed the prospects for cooperation between the two countries’ security councils – which represented a 180 degree shift in Bolton’s position on Russia and President Putin, whom he previously depicted as an enemy of the US.