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Scoop: Russian proposal linked Iran sanctions relief with Syria withdrawal

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a closed hearing on Monday that Russia recently proposed to Israel and the U.S. that Iran be granted relief from some U.S. sanctions in return for the removal of Iranian forces and proxies from Syria.

Why it matters: Iranian retrenchment in Syria is a huge concern for Israel, but the Russian position until now has been, at least publicly, that Iran's presence is legitimate because it came at the Assad regime's invitation. This is the first we're hearing that the Russians have floated an idea for Iran's withdrawal, and that they're linking it to U.S. sanctions.

Netanyahu's statements came during a hearing of the foreign affairs and security committee of the Knesset.

  • Lawmakers who attended the hearing said Netanyahu did not say whether the Russian proposal was made during his short conversation with Vladimir Putin in Paris last Sunday, but that it definitely seemed that way from the prime minister's comments.
  • They said Netanyahu spoke favorably about his meeting with Putin, and said the Russians cannot push the Iranians out of Syria on their own, but need help from other world powers.

According to the members of Knesset who attended the hearing, Netanyahu said Russia and the U.S. were discussing ways to limit Iranian influence in Syria — including the Russian proposal on sanctions relief.

  • Netanyahu said that on November 8th, U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey met in Vienna with Russian officials to discuss the issue. On November 5th, three days before the Vienna meeting, Netanyahu met Jeffrey in Jerusalem.
  • During the hearing, Netanyahu was asked if Israel had expressed a position on the Russian proposal. He said it was at the moment only an idea, and that Israel hasn't formulated a policy on it.

The Russian embassy in Tel-Aviv declined to comment on this story. A senior State Department official didn't deny it, and told me: "We remain engaged with the UN ‎and other parties, including Russia, to encourage all possible efforts to advance the political track as called for in UNSCR 2254. We do not however discuss the substance of these diplomatic discussions".

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