US seeks Syria de­tente with Rus­sia

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

CO-OP­ER­A­TION with Rus­sia is be­com­ing a cen­tral part of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s counter-Is­lamic State (IS) strat­egy in Syria.

US mil­i­tary plan­ners are count­ing on Moscow to try to pre­vent Syr­ian forces and their al­lies on the ground from in­ter­fer­ing in coali­tion-backed op­er­a­tions against IS.

Syria’s once-sep­a­rate con­flicts have moved into close prox­im­ity on the bat­tle­field. Part of the plan es­sen­tially carves up Syria into no-go zones for each of the play­ers – Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s fight, with Rus­sian and Ira­nian help, against rebels seek­ing to over­throw him, and the US-led coali­tion’s war to de­stroy IS.

Some law­mak­ers and White House of­fi­cials have ex­pressed con­cern that the strat­egy is short­sighted, gives the long-term ad­van­tage in Syria to Rus­sia, Iran and As­sad, and ul­ti­mately leaves the door open for a van­quished IS to re-es­tab­lish it­self.

Crit­ics also claim that Rus­sia and Iran may not ad­here to any deal, and that the re­sult would be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the civil war whose ne­go­ti­ated end the ad­min­is­tra­tion has also set as a goal.

US-Rus­sia ne­go­ti­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing even as Congress moves this week to­ward im­pos­ing ad­di­tional sanc­tions on Rus­sia and Iran. El­e­ments of the strat­egy were pre­sented in mem­bers-only brief­ings last week to the House and the Se­nate by De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Joseph Dun­ford and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has made no se­cret of what it has called its “IS first” strat­egy, set­ting the de­feat of the mil­i­tants as its top pri­or­ity, af­ter which other el­e­ments of Syria’s longterm sta­bil­ity are to be ad­dressed.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump turned over to the mil­i­tary de­ci­sions on how to pros­e­cute the war against the IS. The re­sult has been rapid gains against mil­i­tant strongholds, and in­creased co-op­er­a­tion with Moscow to keep the civil war be­tween As­sad and rebels out of the way.

Ac­cord­ing to lines drawn on a map of the con­flict, the US and its prox­ies would con­cede As­sad’s con­trol of most of cen­tral and south­ern Syria west of the Euphrates River, with a few agreed de­vi­a­tions, said US of­fi­cials. Once Raqqa is re­taken, US-backed forces would move down­river to con­trol the mil­i­tant-pop­u­lated vil­lages along­side it, to the Iraqi bor­der. Wash­ing­ton Post

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