Middle East

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ‘agree on Syria’

US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday issued a statement in which they agreed to continue joint efforts to fight the terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria until it is completely defeated.

The joint statement, published on the Kremlin’s website, said that the two leaders also confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and called on all warring parties to participate actively in the UN-sponsored peace process in Geneva.

According to the text of the statement, Moscow and Washington also agreed that there was no military solution to the conflict, which began in 2011 with peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has since grown into a multiparty war involving combatants ranging from government forces and “moderate” rebels to Islamist extremists such as IS.

Opposing views

Russia and the United States have taken different sides in the conflict, with Moscow giving military support to troops of its longtime ally Assad, while Washington until this year backed rebels it considered legitimate in their fight against the Syrian regime.

Reports in July 2017 said Trump had ended the clandestine CIA program of support for such rebels.

Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria since 2015, when it stepped in to support Assad’s rule, tipping the conflict very much in his favor.

Diplomatic dance

The Putin-Trump statement was issued as the two men maintain suspense as to whether they will hold a formal meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Read more:  Why is the United States interested in the ‘Indo-Pacific’?

Trump and Putin have met unofficially several times since late Friday and have even posed for a side-by-side photo, but so far a widely anticipated official sit-down has failed to materialize.

Such a meeting would take place against a fraught background, with some of Trump’s key aides under investigation for alleged collaboration with Moscow ahead of the president’s win in 2016 elections. US officials may well be anxious to avoid any encounter between the two men that could be seen to reinforce the notion that they are in cahoots in any way.

Democrats creating ‘artificial barrier’

In later comments made aboard Air Force One en route to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Trump accused US Democrats of standing in the way of a “good relationship” with Russia by accusing Moscow of meddling in the elections.

He said Russia’s help would be beneficial in “solving” problems with North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, adding that “people will die” because of the Democratic “hit job.”

Trump also said that Putin had once more denied any meddling in the election, adding: “And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it. I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Although no top-level formal Moscow-Washington encounter took place in Vietnam, the summit saw a brief meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Rex Tillerson.

Lavrov, when asked to give the details of their talks, said only: “I can but I wouldn’t.”

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