Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump have announced a general agreement backing Moscow’s line on Syria’s 80-month conflict.
After their brief conversation on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, the Kremlin and US State Department issued a summary which began with a focus on “their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria”.
The Kremlin said that the summary was based not on the Trump-Putin conversation — limited, because the White House had blocked the full meeting that Moscow wanted — but on a position agreed between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday.
According to the statement, “the Presidents agreed that there is no military solution”, instead referring to the Geneva political talks. Invoking a UN Security Council resolution from December 2015 for the process, the Kremlin highlighted constitutional reform and “free and fair elections under UN supervision”.
There was no reference to the future of Bashar al-Assad. Two weeks ago, Tillerson had said that there was “no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government”.
Nor did the statement mention the primary talks in recent months, the discussions in the Kazakh capital Astana where the US has not been present. Russia has used the Astana talks to propel its plan of “de-escalation zones” covering much of Syria, with the formal support of Turkey and Iran, the Assad regime’s other key ally.
The statement used the template of a “commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character”. It did not explain how this reconciled with Kurdish demands for autonomy over the areas they hold in northern and eastern Syria, nor the opposition-held territory including almost all of Idlib Province in the northwest and parts of the south including Damascus suburbs.
According to the statement, Putin and Trump confirmed the “importance” of the de-escalation zones. It avoided any reference to the pressure of the Assad regime and Iran for the recapture of opposition territory and of Kurdish areas, including oil and gas fields recently taken in eastern Syria from the Islamic State.
Putin and Trump “discussed the ongoing need to reduce human suffering in Syria and called on all UN member states to increase their contributions to address these humanitarian needs over the coming months”. The statetment made no reference to the ongoing, years-long sieges of the Assad regime, including the intensifying cut-off of East Ghouta near Damascus, which is threatening almost 400,000 residents.
Trump: “Tremendous Numbers of Lives”
Trump made no reference to any substance in the discussion on Syria, telling reporters aboard Air Force One, “We agreed very quickly. It’s going to save tremendous numbers of lives.”
He focused on his personal connection with Putin and the need to work with Russia on issues such as Syria and North Korea: “We spoke intermittently during that roundtable. We seem to have a very good feeling for each other and a good relationship considering we don’t know each other well.”
Pro-Assad Forces Try Again to Capture Last ISIS Town
Having failed last week to capture the last Islamic State town in Syria, pro-Assad forces say they are launching a new assault.
The Assad regime’s military prematurely announced on Thursday that they had completed “victory” over ISIS with the takeover of al-Bukamal in eastern Syria on the Iraq border.
However, the Islamic State posted video on Friday showing its forces destroying two armored vehicles and a bulldozer, and fighters on the streets of the town. Pro-opposition sites said the pro-Assad units had to withdraw after in-fighting between foreign militias and Hezbollah.
A pro-Assad site effectively acknowledges the setback this morning, proclaiming a fresh attack “inflicting heavy damage on the terrorist group’s defenses around the city”.