President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin..
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
WASHINGTON – A “de-escalation agreement” meant to halt fighting in southwestern Syria, near the Israeli border, took effect at noon on Sunday.
Israeli officials were consulted on the pending ceasefire, negotiated over several months by Russia, the United States and Jordan with Amman’s security concerns top of mind. At the Israeli government’s request, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of the matter by phone on Thursday, “in the context of joint efforts against international terrorism ,” the Kremlin said.
American and Russian officials announced the cease-fire plan in Hamburg on Friday after Putin and US President Donald Trump ironed out the details in person – the public takeaway from their first face-to-face meeting. The agreement marks the Trump administration’s first actionable diplomatic initiative, but is simply the latest attempt in a long series of US efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria’s six-year civil war.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that, by and large, Moscow and Washington have “exactly the same” objectives in Syria, where the two governments have long agreed on delineating terrorist organizations from legitimate rebel groups and on the role of the nation’s brutal president, Bashar Assad.
“I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas,” Tillerson said in Germany.
The toll of the Syrian Civil War on civilians in Aleppo, Syria
European officials responded to the news with cautious optimism, and British diplomats said they would not hold their breath to see the results. Tillerson said the area covered by the cease-fire specifically affects Jordan’s security and is a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield.”
Another senior State Department official told reporters: “It is a first step in what we envision to be a more complex and robust ceasefire arrangement and de-escalation arrangement in southwest Syria, certainly more complex than ones we have tried in the past.”
Backed by Russian air power, Assad has regained ground lost to the mostly Sunni rebels.
The cease-fire should pave the way toward a more robust pacification effort, said a senior State Department official involved in the talks.
The official said further discussions would be needed to decide crucial aspects of the cease-fire, however, including monitoring its enforcement.
Russia and Iran strongly back the Syrian leader, who gives both countries a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean region.
In Warsaw last week, Trump urged Russia to distance itself from both Damascus and Tehran, offering a rare demonstration of concern about Moscow’s growing role in the region.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran – and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies, and in defense of civilization itself,” Trump said.
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