Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Trump, Putin signal better cooperation on Syria

SAFE ZONES:The White House said the presidents discussed several issues, such as creating de-escalation areas in the country, which the Kremlin did not corroborate

AP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signaled improving prospects for cooperation in Syria in what the White House called a “very good” telephone discussion that included a focus on setting up safe zones in the war-torn nation.

The Kremlin said the leaders also agreed to try to set up their first in-person meeting in July on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany. The White House later confirmed that information.

The call marked the first time Trump and Putin have spoken since the US launched missiles against an airbase in Syria, an attack that outraged Russia, one of the Syrian government’s strongest backers.

The US military action sparked new tensions between Washington and Moscow, with top US officials sharply condemning Putin’s continued support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, the leaders appeared to again be edging toward closer cooperation following Tuesday’s call.

The Kremlin said Trump and Putin agreed to bolster diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced.

The White House announced that it would send a top US Department of State official to Russian-led talks on Syria that were yesterday scheduled to begin in Kazakhstan.

“President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence,” the White House said. “The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.”

The Kremlin characterized the call as “business-like” and “constructive.” It made no mention of safe zones.

Since taking office, Trump has been raising the prospect of safe zones in Syria with world leaders. The zones would be aimed at protecting civilians — and dissuading Syrian refugees from trying to enter the US, one of Trump’s goals.

However, military leaders have warned that significant US resources would be required to safeguard the regions.

Whether the US and Russia can find a way forward is deeply uncertain. The US has long sought Moscow’s help in Syria, where the civil war has created a vacuum for the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

However, Russia’s ongoing support for al-Assad has been a persistent roadblock.

As a candidate, Trump argued that the US focus in Syria should be on terrorism, not seeking al-Assad’s removal from power, and he vowed to work with any country — particularly Russia — that wanted to play a role in that effort.

However, last month, Trump was moved by the gruesome images of children killed in a chemical weapons attack that the US has pinned on the al-Assad government. The US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase, marking the first time the US has directly targeted the Syrian government since the conflict there began.

Some of Trump’s top advisers, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, leveled blistering criticism on Russia and Putin following the chemical weapons attack.

Yet, Trump has continued to hold out the prospect of a stronger relationship with Russia, which was a cornerstone of his foreign policy platform as a presidential candidate.

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