U.S.-Russia ties showing signs of thaw
Moscow invites Trump emissary to Syria sessions
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.
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.