Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, center, arrives at an event. (Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg)

Putin Steps Up Effort to Broker Syria Deal Ahead of Trump Summit

(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped up efforts to broker a deal on the pullback of pro-Iranian militias from Syria’s border with Israel as he prepares for next week’s summit with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

Putin met Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme LeaderAli Khamenei, at his residence outside Moscow on Thursday, a day after he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin.

Russia has agreed in principle to U.S. and Israeli demands that the Iranian-backed forces in southern Syria be kept away from Israel’s border, replaced with troops that are loyal to the government in Damascus, according to Kremlin advisers. The deal, unlikely to be made public after Monday’s summit in Helsinki, is part of a Russian strategy to ease tensions with the U.S.

“On the eve of the summit between Putin and Trump it seems like Russia’s mediation efforts are bearing fruit,” said Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert in Moscow.

Netanyahu told Putin that Israel’s top concern is the Iranian presence in neighboring Syria. He said Israel doesn’t object to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s continued hold on power, Haaretz newspaper reported, citing a media briefing by Netanyahu in Moscow.

Trump also has shifted away from his predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of demanding the Syrian leader’s ouster, a position the U.S. formulated before Russia intervened militarily to turn the tide of the civil war in Assad’s favor with Iran’s help.

Still, there are major questions about Putin’s ability to enforce any agreement involving Iran’s actions in Syria, even if he offers to deploy troops to police the border areas in question.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.