Tiller­son holds talks with Syria op­po­si­tion in Am­man

SAYS US HAS ‘FAIRLY WELL AD­VANCED’ MID­DLE EAST PEACE PLAN DE­VEL­OPED OVER MONTH

Gulf News - - Middle East -

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son met Syr­ian op­po­si­tion ne­go­tia­tors in Jor­dan yes­ter­day for closed­door talks in the wake of a Jan­uary peace sum­mit hosted by regime backer Rus­sia.

The op­po­si­tion and Kur­dish groups had boy­cotted the congress, held just days af­ter a ninth round of United Na­tion­sled talks in Vi­enna failed to yield progress to­wards end­ing Syria’s dev­as­tat­ing con­flict.

The West views Rus­sia’s Syria peace ef­forts with sus­pi­cion, con­cerned that Moscow is seek­ing to side­line the UN process.

But the US act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, David Satterfield, said yes­ter­day that the fall­out had been lim­ited.

“We got in the end a com­mu­nique which val­i­dated the UN role,” Satterfield said be­fore Tiller­son’s meet­ing in Am­man. “So this game, this theatre that was Sochi... fi­nally came out in a way that did no dam­age.”

De­spite Moscow in­sist­ing Syr­ian so­ci­ety would be fully rep­re­sented at Sochi, al­most all of the 1,400 del­e­gates were pro-regime. They agreed to set up a com­mis­sion to re-write the coun­try’s post-war con­sti­tu­tion.

Mideast ‘peace plan’

The United States’s work on a new Mid­dle East peace plan is “fairly well ad­vanced”, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said on Wed­nes­day, though he pro­vided no de­tails on an ini­tia­tive which comes amid deep Pales­tinian scep­ti­cism about U.S. in­ten­tions.

Mean­while, Rus­sian news re­ports on Tues­day de­scribed the alarm­ing sce­nario of Amer­i­can and Rus­sian forces get­ting caught in in­ad­ver­tent clashes, with an un­known num­ber of Rus­sian mil­i­tary con­trac­tors ap­par­ently killed in a fe­ro­cious US coun­ter­at­tack last week. But de­fence sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and other US of­fi­cials said they had no such in­for­ma­tion on ca­su­al­ties, and the Krem­lin did not con­firm any Rus­sian deaths.

What is not dis­puted is the fast-chang­ing, of­ten con­fus­ing na­ture of a bat­tle­field in which forces of mul­ti­ple coun­tries are bump­ing up against one an­other, rais­ing the prospect of vi­o­lent col­li­sions. Rus­sian forces are sup­port­ing the Syr­ian regime in its war with op­po­si­tion groups, some of which are backed by the United States. El­e­ments of both sides are fight­ing the last rem­nants of Daesh in Syria.

Beyond doubt is the fe­ro­cious scale of the US at­tack on Fe­bru­ary 7, in re­sponse to what the Pen­tagon called a bar­rage of ar­tillery and tank fire from sev­eral hun­dred “pro-regime” fight­ers in Deir Al Zor prov­ince, an area in east­ern Syria where the last Daesh fight­ers have con­verged among oil fields. Lt. Gen. Jef­frey Har­ri­gian, com­man­der of US air forces in the Mid­dle East, told re­porters a broad range of US air power was un­leashed.

“As the hos­tile forces turned west and re­treated, we ceased fire,” Har­ri­gian said in a video tele­con­fer­ence with re­porters at the Pen­tagon. In a se­cond episode, the US struck a Rus­sian­made T-72 bat­tle tank on Satur­day af­ter it “took a shot at us” in the same gen­eral area of Deir Al Zor prov­ince, Har­ri­gian said.

Rus­sian me­dia said Rus­sian pri­vate con­trac­tors were part of pro-Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces that ad­vanced on oil fields in the Deir Al Zor prov­ince and were tar­geted by the United States. The re­ports cited ac­tivists who said that at least four Rus­sian cit­i­zens were killed in Syria on Fe­bru­ary 7. Rus­sian me­dia also cited un­con­firmed claims that over­all ca­su­al­ties could have been as high as 200 and Rus­sians could have ac­counted for the bulk of them. Those claims couldn’t be ver­i­fied.

Mat­tis, speak­ing to re­porters on Tues­day while trav­el­ling in Europe, was adamant he knew of no Rus­sian con­trac­tors killed in the fight­ing. “I don’t have any re­port­ing” about Rus­sians be­ing among the ca­su­al­ties, he said.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesper­son, Dmitry Peskov, wouldn’t com­ment on the re­ports ei­ther, say­ing they needed to be ver­i­fied.

Reuters

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and other del­e­gates ar­rive for a meet­ing in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal Am­man yes­ter­day.

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