“The United States, Russia and regional countries reached a ceasefire deal in southwestern Syria,” a US official said on Friday, July 7 after the Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ended their hotly-anticipated first encounter in Hamburg. He was referring to Iran and its consent to a ceasefire going into effect Sunday, July 9.
DEBKAfile reports that this was a significant breakthrough in one the most volatile fronts of the six-year Syrian war with direct impact on Israeli and Jordanian security. Our sources reveal that Tehran was persuaded to come on board this limited ceasefire in urgent phone conversations ahead of the summit between Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Iran’s National Security Adviser Adm. Shamkhani.
Russia and Iran are the main international backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Washington supports some of the rebel groups fighting for his ouster.
Tehran’s consent to giving up the military operations it has been sponsoring along Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan is no doubt part of a US-Russian tradeoff for Iranian gains on other Syrian fronts which would be of equal or greater value to its interests.
For Iran, the big gain would be its military control of the eastern front along the Syrian-Iraqi border, as the key to opening up its coveted land corridor from Iraq into Syria.
“Still a lot of work to be done,” the US official said.
Reporters expected US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to provide more details of the deal, including how the US and Russia proposed to extend the ceasefire in southwestern Syria to other war fronts.
The limited deal struck by Trump and Putin provides Israel and Jordan with a partial measure of relief, because Iran will certainly be allowed to complete its military intervention in other parts of Syria in return.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the summit along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was upbeat: “I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence.
Tillerson went on to say: “Once we defeat ISIS, we will work together toward a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.” He added: “We see no long-term future for Bashar Assad.”
Tillerson also disclosed that Trump confronted Putin, at the start of their meeting, with the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Russian leader flatly denied the charge. However, Secretary Tillerson said that this confrontation should relieve some of the pressure on the president at home.
Regarding the North Korean missile crisis, Tilleson said shortly that the present situation is “unacceptable” but very few options remain. “We are asking North Korea to come to the table, and still calling upon China to act on North Korea.”
The Putin-Trump encounter scheduled for 30 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 summit ran on to two hours, 16 minutes. But when the dust settled from the fanfare surrounding it, it began to be realized that the US and Russian presidents had reached very little consent on any issue excepting only the limited Syrian truce.
That too affects only a single limited front on which the US president focused to demonstrate loyalty with US regional allies, Israel and Jordan. But given the ephemeral nature of all former truces agreed between the two powers – and the strategic goals Iran and Hizballah are pressing for in Syria – DEBKAfile’s military sources, expect the fighting in southwestern Syria to flare up pretty soon after the ceasefire goes into effect..