US and Russia ‘nearing agreement on Syria’s future’
US and Russia ‘nearing agreement on Syria’s future’
If clinched, the deal could have been announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after a meeting in Vietnam, US officials said. But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that they won’t hold a formal meeting due to scheduling conflicts on “both sides.”
Still, Sanders said it was possible Trump and Putin could have a less formal encounter while in Vietnam. The US has been reluctant to hold a formal meeting between the leaders unless they have a substantive agreement to announce.
The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of Daesh, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria. Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country’s future.
The US-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: “deconfliction” between the US and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks. The officials were not authorized to discuss the deliberations and requested anonymity.
The US and Russian militaries have maintained a “deconfliction” hotline for years to avoid unintended collisions and even potential confrontations as they each operate in Syria’s crowded skies. A heavy air campaign by Russia has been credited with shoring up the position of Assad, a close ally of Moscow.
With Daesh nearing defeat, the US and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria and will remain in a proxy battle in which Russia backs Assad and the US lends at least rhetorical support to armed opposition groups fighting the government. That has increased the need for close communication between the two powers about where their forces are operating at any given time, officials said.
The agreement also seeks to build on progress in establishing “de-escalation zones” in Syria that have calmed some parts of the country. In July, when Trump held his first meeting with Putin in Germany, the US and Russia announced a deal that included Jordan and established a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The US has said that cease-fire has largely held and could be replicated elsewhere in the country.
A key US concern, shared by close ally Israel, is the presence of Iranian-backed militias in Syria that have exploited the vacuum of power. The US and Israel have been seeking ways to prevent forces loyal to Iran from establishing a permanent presence. One idea hinges on a “buffer zone” along Israel’s border with Syria.
A third element of the deal would reaffirm support for the UN effort being run out of Geneva to seek a political transition in Syria and resolve the civil war. The US and Russia have been at odds for years over whether Assad could be allowed to remain in power in a future Syrian government.
The UN talks, which have come in fits and starts without yielding significant progress, aren’t the only discussions about Syria’s future. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been brokering their own process in Astana, Kazakhstan. The US views those talks warily because of Iran’s involvement, though they’ve led to local cease-fire deals that have reduced violence, too.
“We believe that the Geneva process is the right way to go,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday. “Unfortunately, it is a long way off, but we’re getting a little bit closer.”
The US-Russia deal may also seek to expand the mandate of a joint “monitoring center” established this year in Amman, Jordan, to watch for cease-fire violations and other developments on the ground. It has focused on southwest Syria, where the cease-fire is in place, but could be used to monitor broader stretches of the country.
Although Moscow has sought a formal meeting between Trump and Putin while both are in Vietnam this week, the US has not committed to such a meeting. Washington’s concern is that it would not serve US interests unless there’s progress between the countries to announce — on Syria or something else. Putin’s aides have said a meeting will likely occur Friday and that the time, place and format are being worked out between the governments.
Iran announces new fighter jet
- Defense minister dismisses the idea of an “Arab NATO”
- Minister reveals a new fighter jet “will fly on National Defense Industry Day”
TEHRAN: Iran will unveil this week a new jet fighter and upgrade its missile defenses to meet threats from Israel and the US, Tasnim news agency said Sunday quoting the defense minister.
“Our first priority is our missile capability and we must enhance it... given the enemy’s efforts in missile defense,” said Amir Hatami in an interview on television late Saturday, according to Tasnim.
He added that a new fighter jet “will fly on National Defense Industry Day,” which falls on Wednesday.
Hatami said the defense program was motivated by memories of the missile attacks Iran suffered during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and by repeated threats from Israel and the United States that “all options are on the table” in dealing with the Islamic republic.
“We have learned in the (Iran-Iraq) war that we cannot rely on anyone but ourselves. We saw that wherever we are not capable, no one will have mercy on us,” he said.
“Our resources are limited and we are committed to establishing security at a minimum cost.
“We upgrade our missiles according to our enemies’ threats and actions, as a deterrent and to give a crushing response to the enemy,” he added.
Hatami added that regional rival Saudi Arabia “has the largest military budget in the world after America and China... while our defense budget is limited.”
“What would any nation with such a situation and past do in our place?” he said.
The defense minister dismissed the idea of an “Arab NATO” — an old concept that has recently resurfaced as Washington tries to push regional countries to accept a greater share of their defense.
“Arab NATO is part of the game of creating discord by the enemy and it’s not worth paying attention to,” said Hatami.
“It is unlikely that America and the Zionist regime (Israel) allow Muslim countries to come together. They know well that the aim of Muslim nations is to destroy the Zionist regime and defend Palestine,” he added.