Trump and Putin Agreed That Iran Should Exit Syria, Official Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July summit in Helsinki was largely dominated by discussion of the crisis in Syria and Iran’s role in the conflict, according to a U.S. administration official familiar with the meeting.

The two leaders agreed in principle that Iran should exit Syria, according to the person, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity. Russian leadership, however, said accomplishing Iran’s withdrawal would be difficult.

Trump and Putin also discussed the campaign against the Islamic State, disputes over Golan Heights, and the humanitarian situation in Syria, which has suffered years of civil war, the official said. Trump briefed his chief of staff, John Kelly; National Security Adviser John Bolton; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman for 15 minutes immediately after meeting one-on-one with Putin, the official said.

But the meeting garnered little in terms of concrete agreement, and the two sides did not approve the extension of a pair of arms control treaties during the talks. Russian negotiators have sought to engage the Trump administration on renegotiating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and renewing the New START treaty governing both nations’ weapons capacities. The latter agreement, negotiated under former President Barack Obama, expires in 2021.

Both arms control and Syria are expected to be on the agenda as White House National Security Adviser John Bolton meets with Russian officials next week in Geneva. Putin and Trump agreed in Helsinki to order the meeting of the two nations’ senior national security staff.

Much of the focus at the summit was directed to President Trump’s handling of questions of Russian interference in U.S. elections, with a bipartisan chorus of critics denouncing his refusal to say he believed the U.S. intelligence community over Putin’s denials. Trump subsequently said he misspoke and that he did believe the analysis from the American intelligence community.

During his closed-door meeting with Putin, the U.S. president told his Russian counterpart that he expected meddling to stop in the 2018 election, according to the official. The topic was the first raised by Trump during their bilateral conversation, the official said.

In the talks, Trump also raised concerns with Putin over the Nordstream 2 pipeline intended to provide Russian natural gas to Europe, as well as discussions of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, the official said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.