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.
Red Sea resorts drive Egypt tourism hopes
- The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world
- Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016
CAIRO: Egypt’s tourism industry, struggling since the 2011 uprising plunged the country into violence, is showing signs of recovery.
Thomas Cook, one of the largest tourism companies in Egypt, announced on Sunday that 500,000 tourists will visit the country in 2018.
Egypt’s Thomas Cook agent chairman, Moody Al-Shaer, said that the company had experienced a 50 percent surge in bookings during the first half of 2018, particularly to Red Sea destinations such as Hurghada and Marsa Alam.
“The occupancy rate reached its highest levels since July 2017. We also have a slight increase in prices since last year due to the high demand for Hurghada,” Azza Hussien, marketing manager of the Hilton Hurghada resort, told Arab News.
“One of the main drivers to Hurghada is the competitive pricing and value for money, and this is one of the major reasons leading to a rise in demand among tourists,” Hussien said.
Reports from airlines indicated a rise in British tourism to Egypt. International travel agencies have also forecast a surge in tourists from the UK, with bookings and flights set for a significant increase during 2018.
“With more than 40 UK flights a week, Egypt is again a dream destination for hundreds of thousands of British tourists,” John Casson, the UK ambassador to Egypt, said.
The envoy said at the end of 2017 that Thomas Cook planned to resume flights to the Egyptian city of Marsa Alam to accommodate “growing British demand” for Egyptian holidays.
The tour company suspended flights to the city 10 years ago.
Two flights from Birmingham airport and London Gatwick airport each week will support Thomas Cook’s plans.
The Red Sea resort of Hurghada has been listed as one of the top 25 destinations in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
“The stunning coral reefs and turquoise waters are perfect for windsurfing. Within easy reach of the Giftun Islands and the eastern Arabian Desert,” TripAdvisor wrote on its official website.
“It’s a relatively easy beach escape for Europeans, and some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling sites are just offshore,” it added.
“We come here every year, we love the place. Everyone smiles at you, we really feel at home here,” said Nancy Markaus, a Serbian tourist in Hurghada.
“We love Egypt and we love how friendly people are to us,” said Marten Lutz, a German tourist.
Egypt’s annual tourist influx rose to 8.3 million in 2017 from 5.3 million in 2016. Yet results are still well off the 12 million figure for 2010.