Trump, Putin sig­nal new ef­fort to co-op­er­ate on Syria

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JULIE PACE

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sig­nalled the prospect of in­creased co-op­er­a­tion in Syria Tues­day, in what the White House called a “very good” phone dis­cus­sion that in­cluded a fo­cus on set­ting up safe zones in the wartorn na­tion.

The White House 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.

Tues­day’s call marked the first time Trump and Putin have spo­ken since the U.S. launched mis­siles against an air­base in Syria, an at­tack that out­raged Rus­sia, one of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s strong­est back­ers. The U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion sparked new ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow, with top U.S. of­fi­cials sharply con­demn­ing Putin’s con­tin­ued sup­port for em­bat­tled Syr­ian leader Bashar As­sad.

But the lead­ers ap­peared to again be edg­ing to­ward closer co-op­er­a­tion 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 it would send a top State De­part­ment of­fi­cial to Rus­sian-led talks on Syria that be­gin Wed­nes­day 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 “busi­nesslike” and “con­struc­tive.” It made no men­tion of safe zones.

De­spite hav­ing pre­vi­ously warned against U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in Syria, Trump or­dered the strikes against Syr­ian gov­ern­ment tar­gets in early April after ac­cus­ing the regime of us­ing chem­i­cal weapons in a deadly at­tack on civil­ians. Rus­sia said the U.S. strikes vi­o­lated in­ter­na­tional law.

Some of Trump’s top ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and United Na­tions Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley, lev­elled 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. He took to Twit­ter days after the Syria strikes to say that “things will work out fine” be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia and “ev­ery­one will come to their senses.”

The shifts in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pos­ture came amid a steady swirl of con­tro­versy sur­round­ing pos­si­ble ties be­tween the pres­i­dent’s as­so­ciates and Rus­sia dur­ing last year’s election. The FBI and con­gres­sional com­mit­tees are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Trump’s cam­paign co-or­di­nated with Rus­sia as it med­dled in the election.

Hil­lary Clin­ton, Trump’s van­quished Demo­cratic op­po­nent, said dur­ing a speak­ing ap­pear­ance Tues­day that she was “on the way to win­ning” the election un­til “in­ter­ven­ing events” in the cam­paign’s fi­nal days, in­clud­ing Wik­iLeaks’ re­lease of hacked emails from one of her top ad­vis­ers. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have as­sessed that Rus­sia was be­hind the hack­ing.

Putin, who met ear­lier Tues­day with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, de­nied that Moscow ever in­ter­feres in other coun­tries’ elec­tions.

Trump has de­nied any ne­far­i­ous ties to Moscow, call­ing the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tions a “hoax.”

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