Trump, Putin look to work together on Syria

Trump, Putin look to work together on Syria

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled improving prospects for co-operation in Syria in what the White House called a “very good” phone discussion that included a focus on setting up safe zones in the war-torn nation.

The Kremlin said the leaders also agreed in Tuesday’s call to try to set up their first in-person meeting in July, on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany. The White House later confirmed that information.

The call marked the first time Trump and Putin have spoken since the U.S. launched missiles against an air base 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 the exchange. 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 “business-like” and “constructive.” It made no mention of safe zones.

Since taking office, Trump has been raising the prospect of safe zones in Syria with world leaders. The zones would be aimed at protecting civilians — and dissuading Syrian refugees from trying to come to the United States, one of Trump’s goals. But military leaders have warned that significant American resources would be required to safeguard the regions.

Whether the U.S. and Russia can find a way forward is deeply uncertain. The U.S. has long sought Moscow’s help in Syria, where the civil war has created a vacuum for the Islamic State and other extremist groups. But Russia’s ongoing support for Assad has been a persistent roadblock.

As a candidate, Trump argued that the U.S. focus in Syria should be on terrorism, not seeking Assad’s removal from power. And he vowed to work with any country — particularly Russia — that wanted to play a role in that effort.

But last month, Trump was moved by the gruesome images of children killed in a chemical weapons attack that the U.S. has pinned on the Assad government. The U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base, marking the first time America has directly targeted the Syrian government since the conflict there began.

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 the 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. He said accusations of Russian meddling aimed at helping Trump in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton were “simply rumours” being used as part of a political fight in Washington.

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

Tuesday’s call marked the third time Trump and Putin are known to have talked since the U.S. president took office in January. Both the White House and the Kremlin said the leaders also discussed North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

___

AP writers Lynn Berry In Moscow and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Julie Pace, The Associated Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read