President Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran has hit an obstacle: Russia.
While the United States insists that Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in international airspace last week, Russia rejected the charge on Tuesday and supported Iran’s claim that the Global Hawk drone with a 116-foot wingspan was shot down over Iranian territory.
A top Russian official stated Moscow’s intelligence findings at a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, according to Haaretz, the Israeli daily.
Russia has military intelligence that shows that a U.S. drone was in Iranian airspace when it was shot down by Iran last week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said on Tuesday in his opening remarks at a first-ever trilateral meeting with American and Israeli national security advisers in Jerusalem.
Iranian officials say the drone violated Iranian airspace and put the debris on display for the Iranian media.
Pompeo is trying to pull together a coalition of Middle East countries to confront Iran. After reneging on the international pact to limit Iran’s nuclear program, Trump has imposed crippling sanctions that are harming Iran’s health care system, ordered and called off a military attack that he said would have killed 150 people, and insisted that future attacks are “on the table.”
Pompeo is looking for allies to back Trump’s aggressive policy, starting with Israel. As Haaretz notes, “Israel believes that holding such talks in Jerusalem makes it a central regional partner in world powers’ discussions about their interests in Syria, and that this sends a public message to Iran’s leaders.”
But Patrushev’s comments sent another public message to Iran’s leaders: that Russia is not joining America’s war coalition. The Russians are willing to take Iran’s side against the U.S. and Israel, even in Jerusalem. Iranian news outlets are playing up Patrushev’s remarks.
Patrushev also cast doubt on U.S. and Israeli allegations that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps was behind the June 13 attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Oman. He said that evidence presented by the United States alleging Iran was behind attacks was of poor quality and unprofessional, according to Reuters.
The Iranians say the tanker attacks were “suspicious” and called attention to the false U.S. claims in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. German chancellor Angela Merkel has said the U.S. evidence is “convincing.”
Last week, after Iran shot down the U.S. drone, Putin said a U.S. attack on Iran “would be a catastrophe for the region” that could result in “a surge in violence and perhaps an increase in the number of refugees.”
In a TV call-in show last week, the Russian leader said that he believed Iran was still complying with its commitments under the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. Russia is also a party to the deal and, like the other European countries, supports its continuation, provided Iran remains compliant.
Trump has cultivated Putin since 2013 when he tweeted his hope that the Russian leader would attend a Trump-sponsored beauty pageant in Moscow and become “my new best friend.”
Trump’s yearning for Putin’s approval did not go unrequited. Putin and his agents supported Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016, according to the Mueller Report. As recently as May 4, Trump said he had a “very good call with Putin” and expressed hopes for “a good/great relationship.”
But none of that means that Putin supports Trump’s belligerence toward Iran. Putin and Trump are typical frenemies.