Reporting by James Rosen
Of all that hangs on the handshake between President Trump and President Putin, nothing is more consequential than the Syrian civil war, now it in its seventh year, with more than 400,000 lives lost.
Shored up by Russian air strikes and Iranian-backed militias, the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad has driven US backed rebels from much of the territory they once controlled.
While the US led coalition force has gutted the self-proclaimed caliphate of the terror group ISIS “Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham.” The Al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as Al-Nusrah, remains a potent force.
Virtually entire cities have been obliterated, five million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, and more than six million still in the country have been forced from their homes.
In Europe this week, President Trump called on the Kremlin to jettison Assad.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes—including Syria and Iran—and to instead join the community of responsible nations…”
The State Department said the US is open, with Russian assistance, to creating no-fly zones in Syria.
Part of a preview of the Trump-Putin dialogue offered Thursday by spokesperson Heather Nauert.
“We believe that Russia has a special responsibility. They have unique leverage over the Syrian regime and so we’re going to continue to put pressure on them to ask them to do more…”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hailed the two presidents’ agreement on a cease-fire zone in Southwest Syria as the “first indication” that Washington and the Kremlin can work together in-theater.
Charles Lister, Middle East Institute Senior Fellow says he has seen this movie before.
“The previous de-escalation zones that Russia claimed to have negotiated for different parts of Syria included one for southern Syria…but after Russia negotiated that de-escalation zone in southern Syria, we saw the largest escalation in Assad regime bombing in southern Syria for nearly three years. So …Russia doesn’t have the necessary leverage in Syria over Assad or over Iran to actually bring forward these agreements and make them genuinely durable.”