Since the Helsinki summit was billed to discuss Syria, there was hectic diplomatic activity from both Israel and Iran prior to the summit. Israeli PM Netanyahu met President Putin in Russia and spoke on the telephone to President Trump. His concern was to rid Syria of Iranian presence, in return for which he was reported to have promised to accept continuation of the Assad government. Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign affairs adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, also visited Moscow to seek safeguarding of Iran’s interests at the summit.

President Trump reflected the Israeli concern at the press conference. For Russia, getting Iran to withdraw from Syria was neither feasible nor desirable. The eventual agreement was to establish a military disengagement between the Israeli-occupied and Syrian-controlled territory on the Golan Heights, keeping out Iranian military presence. With tacit US acquiescence, the Syrians moved swiftly against rebels in southwestern and southern Syria, including the outfits which had reportedly been supported by the Israelis to keep the Iranians out of the Golan Heights. By month-end, the Russia-backed Syrian army had regained control of virtually the entire province of Quneitra on the Golan Heights and the provinces bordering Jordan, despite a strong terrorist attack by rebels in As-suweida Province killing over 200 civilians. The US protested, in Secretary Pompeo’s telephone call to FM Lavrov on July 21, against Russia’s violation of its commitment to the de-escalation in southwestern Syria. A Russian MFA release said Russia had to take military action, since the Americans had not fulfilled their commitment to get the “moderate” Syrian opposition to disarm.

How Russia-US interaction will develop further in Syria remains unclear, given the divergence of their interests (and those of their respective allies).

 

July 30, 2018

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About the Author

Born in 1955, Ambassador Raghavan holds a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Physics and a B.E. in Electronics & Communications Engineering. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1979. From 1979 to 2000, he had diplomatic assignments in USSR, Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam and South Africa, interspersed with assignments in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. From 2000 to 2004, he was Joint Secretary in the Indian Prime Minister's Office dealing with Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Energy, Space, Defence and National Security. Thereafter, he was Ambassador of India to Czech Republic (2004 - 2007) and to Ireland (2007 - 2011).

He was Chief Coordinator of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi (March 2012) and Special Envoy of the Government of India to Sudan and South Sudan (2012-13). Ambassador Raghavan conceptualized and piloted the creation of the Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in MEA, which implements and monitors India’s economic partnership programs in developing countries, with an annual budget of $1-1.5 billion. He headed DPA in 2012-13. From March 2013 to January 2014, he oversaw the functioning of the Administration, Security, Information Technology and other related Divisions of MEA. Since October 2013, he was also Secretary [Economic Relations] in MEA, steering India’s bilateral and multilateral external economic engagement. Ambassador Raghavan retired from the Indian Foreign Service in January 2016, after serving from 2014 as Ambassador of India to Russia. Since September 2016, he is Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.

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