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Breakthrough on Syria

The G-20 Summit was much-awaited globally, mostly because of the top-level bilateral meetings held on its sidelines. The most intriguing was the first meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, which lasted more than two hours, giving the impression that they enjoyed each other’s company.

Though agreements or significant declarations were not expected, and Russian-US ties remain at a low, they finally found common ground on Syria. Trump and Putin claimed a political victory by brokering a cease-fire in the country’s southwest that started midday on Sunday. This unprecedented deal was not expected even by optimists.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said talks were held in Jordan in June to reach the “de-escalation” deal. A memorandum of understanding to establish a de-escalation zone in the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Suweida was agreed on Saturday between Russian, American and Jordanian military and security experts.

Under the deal, Russian troops will be deployed near the Jordanian-Syrian border to replace Iranian forces, as Jordan has reservations about militias or sectarian forces near its borders. This deployment is in the interest of all the players, as it minimizes the undesirable Iranian presence in strategically important areas in Syria that hinders the conflict’s settlement and regional stability.

The agreement also includes areas that have seen recent clashes between the Syrian army on one hand, and Israeli and rebel forces on the other. The aspirations of the Syrian people will be realized if this deal is implemented sincerely by all concerned parties.

The Trump-Putin meeting set up a robust and comprehensive framework for cooperation on Syria and solving other regional issues. But this requires regional cooperation and coordination from concerned parties, Turkey and Saudi Arabia particularly, as the peace process depends on the situation not only on the ground but also at the negotiating table.

Maria Dubovikova

This year, Russia has been involved in talks with Turkey and Iran to create four de-escalation zones in Syria, to be monitored by two centers, one in Jordan and the other in Turkey. Monitoring will be conducted mainly by Russian military police in coordination with Jordanian and American officers.

The tripartite agreement was also agreed upon by the Syrian government, allied forces and rebels. The three signatory countries voiced their commitment to working on a political solution based on UN-backed talks in Geneva and UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Jordan currently seems the focal point for US and Russian policymakers, as the Trump-Putin understanding is meant to reduce violence in an area of Syria that is critical to Jordanian and Israeli security. Jordan’s King Abdullah is a frequent guest in Washington and Moscow these days, negotiating many regional issues. The UN welcomed the US-Russia deal, saying it will help upcoming peace talks. But much work lies ahead to ensure they yield positive results.

The Trump-Putin meeting set up a robust and comprehensive framework for cooperation on Syria and solving other regional issues. But this requires regional cooperation and coordination from concerned parties, Turkey and Saudi Arabia particularly, as the peace process depends on the situation not only on the ground but also at the negotiating table.

• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter: @politblogme.