U.S.-Rus­sia ties show­ing signs of thaw

Moscow in­vites Trump emis­sary to Syria ses­sions

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller WASHINGTON POST

Rus­sia has in­vited the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to Syr­ian peace talks it is spon­sor­ing this month with Turkey and Iran, part of a process from which Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been ex­cluded.

U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion, es­pe­cially if an agree­ment is reached, would be the first in­di­ca­tion of the en­hanced U.S.-Rus­sia co­op­er­a­tion that Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump have fore­cast un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The in­vi­ta­tion, ex­tended to Trump’s des­ig­nated na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, came in a Dec. 28 phone call to Flynn by Sergey Kislyak, Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador in Washington, ac­cord­ing to a tran­si­tion of­fi­cial.

No de­ci­sion made

The of­fi­cial said that “no de­ci­sion was made” dur­ing the call and that “I don’t have any­thing ad­di­tional on U.S. at­ten­dance at this time.”

The of­fi­cial spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

A spokesman for Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said Fri­day that the United States would at­tend the talks, ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish me­dia. To be held in As­tana, the cap­i­tal of Kaza­khstan, the talks are ten­ta­tively sched­uled to be­gin Jan. 23. Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives are also ex­pected to at­tend.

The As­tana meet­ing will fol­low an un­suc­cess­ful year­long at­tempt, spear­headed by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Rus­sia, to im­ple­ment a cease-fire and be­gin peace talks in Syria. Moscow and Washington have ac­cused each other of sab­o­tag­ing that ef­fort. Rus­sia ini­ti­ated the new process, aim­ing to demon­strate its lead­er­ship role on the re­gional and global stages.

Sanc­tions ques­tion

Mean­while, the tim­ing of the Flynn-Kislyak call has prompted ques­tions about whether they also dis­cussed sanc­tions on Rus­sia that Obama was widely re­ported to be pre­par­ing — and an­nounced the next day — and whether Trump, as pres­i­dent, will en­force them.

The tran­si­tion of­fi­cial said Fri­day that he did not know whether Flynn was aware at the time of the call that sanc­tions were about to be an­nounced.

But “I can tell you that dur­ing his call, sanc­tions were not dis­cussed what­so­ever,” the of­fi­cial said.

Trump con­ceded at a news con­fer­ence this week that “I think it was Rus­sia” that was re­spon­si­ble for hack­ing Demo­cratic email ac­counts dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

He had pre­vi­ously ques­tioned a U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment of Rus­sian re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The Flynn-Kislyak call was first re­ported Fri­day by Washington Post colum­nist David Ig­natius, who said tran­si­tion of­fi­cials de­scribed two sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tions be­tween them, both ini­ti­ated by Flynn.

The first call, Dec. 19, was to ex­press con­do­lences for the ter­ror­ist killing of the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Turkey. The se­cond, Dec. 28, was to ex­press con­do­lences for the crash of a Rus­sian plane car­ry­ing a choir to Syria, to dis­cuss a Putin-Trump tele­phone call af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion, and to dis­cuss a Rus­sian in­vi­ta­tion for a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial to visit Kaza­khstan in late Jan­uary.

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