Syria, a major focus in Trump-Putin first official meeting

During the meeting, the two sides announced they had agreed on a ceasefire in parts of south-western Syria.

Face-to-face. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to US President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, on July 7. (Reuters)

2017/07/09 Issue: 114 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

Washington- After weeks of anticipation befitting a World Cup fi­nal, US President Donald Trump and Russian Pres­ident Vladimir Putin, on June 7, met face-to-face for the first time in Hamburg, Germany, where both leaders were attending the G20 summit. Their private meeting was scheduled to last 30 minutes but went on for more than two hours.

During the meeting, the two sides announced they had agreed on a ceasefire in parts of south-western Syria. The agreement, which is to go into effect 0900 GMT July 16, was also signed by Jordan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tiller­son, who, along with Russian For­eign Minister Sergei Lavrov, was the only person to attend the meeting other than a pair of interpreters, called the agreement “our first in­dication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”

Lavrov said the objectives of the United States and Russia in Syria “are exactly the same” but Tillerson emphasised that Washington still sees “no long-term role for the As­sad family,” Russia’s principal Syr­ian ally.

There had been hints that Syria would be a major focus of the talks. Before boarding his plane for Ham­burg on June 6, Tillerson said the United States and Russia “have the potential to appropriately coordi­nate in Syria in order to produce sta­bility and serve our mutual security interests.”

Trump, speaking in Warsaw, Po­land, on June 6, urged Russia to cease “its support for hostile re­gimes, including Syria and Iran, and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in de­fence of civilisation itself.”

The main focus of Trump’s War­saw speech, however, was an aggres­sive defence of Western civilisation: “The West will never be broken. Our values will prevail… our civilisation will triumph,” Trump said before a large and supportive crowd. “Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?” Trump asked, a clear reference to the inflow of refugees and immigrants into Eu­rope.

Trump said in his speech that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive” the threat posed by radical Islam. This comment, along with Tillerson’s remarks on Syria, suggests that any disagreements be­tween the United States and Russia will be placed on the back-burner for the foreseeable future.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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