The Trump administration is still chasing after the fantasy that Russia will help push Iranian forces out of Syria:
A senior White House official said in a conference call with reporters that the U.S. plans to stress to Russia during its trilateral national security advisers summit in Jerusalem this month that Iranian forces and their proxies have to leave Syria.
The administration has been seeking Russian cooperation on this front for the last year. It has never made sense. The Russian government has no reason to agree to the U.S. plan. Why would Russia do the U.S. the favor of supporting the administration’s anti-Iranian policy? Russia stands to gain nothing from helping the administration on this issue, and the administration is not offering them any incentives to make the effort. Moscow has previously rejected the idea when the U.S. has brought it up:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday urged the U.S. to abandon its demands for Iran to surrender its influence in the region, describing them as “unprofessional and unrealistic.”
Nothing has changed in the last nine months that makes Russia any more likely to agree now. Just last month, Lavrov reiterated his view that U.S. demands were “unrealistic.” Besides, driving Iran out of Syria after the Iranian government has done a great deal to prop up Syria’s government is almost certainly beyond what Russia can achieve with its influence even if it wished to try. The relationship between the Syrian and Iranian governments is important to both, and neither of them will want to do anything to undermine it. The administration isn’t just pushing on a locked door. They are pushing on a locked door that wouldn’t get them what they want even if it opened.
The administration’s problem is that they wrongly believe that other governments share their opinion of Iran’s role in the region. Reuters quotes an administration official saying this:
But beyond discussions to prevent any unintended military escalation, the U.S. official said the goal of the talks would be “to see how we can potentially work together to get rid of the primary irritant in the Middle East, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The U.S. and Israel may consider Iran to be “the primary irritant,” but Russia doesn’t see things this way and it isn’t going to respond favorably to efforts to enlist them in an anti-Iranian pressure campaign. Russia wants to cultivate good relations with Israel, so they are participating in the meeting, but that participation shouldn’t be taken as a sign that they are interested in giving Bolton what he wants. All in all, this meeting in Jerusalem will make for a curious photo op, but it isn’t going to produce anything significant.