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U.S.-Russia Agreement on Syria: There’s Still More Work To Be Done

Nov. 14, 2017 (EIRNS)—The agreement on Syria that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump approved on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam on Nov. 11, does not mean there are no longer disagreements between the two countries on Syria’s future, but that another step forward has been taken on a difficult path. A State Department briefer told reporters on background after the agreement was announced that it codifies areas of agreement between the two sides, but it

"does not sugarcoat differences that remain, and we still have work to do as we emerge from the primary focus on ISIS to the next phase of the campaign,"

that is, locking in the de-escalation zones on the way to a meaningful political settlement by way of the Geneva process.

"The statement will now be an important reference point for Moscow and Washington both in their bilateral contacts and in their communication with the respective warring parties,"

writes Maxim Suchkov, Al Monitor’s Russia correspondent, in an analysis published on Nov. 13. It is aimed, he argues,

"at shifting the paradigm of ‘Moscow and Assad’ vs. ‘Washington and the opposition’ to Moscow and Washington pressing for Assad and the opposition to work with one another."

This is unlikely to work in the near term, if at all, he argues,

"but it signals a principal intent in Moscow and Washington to leave their own conflicts of interest outside this specific equation and find a key to the six-year Syrian deadlock by working together on the local players."

During a meeting with reporters yesterday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that U.S. forces in Syria won’t be leaving "until the Geneva process can give us a diplomatic solution and a way ahead." He wouldn’t go into much detail, other than to say that

"we’re not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has cracked. That doesn’t mean everyone stays there. That’s doesn’t mean for certain—certain troops are leaving,"

he said. "We’re going to make sure we set the conditions for a diplomatic solution."

This is one of the areas in which the two sides still disagree. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to Mattis by saying that the U.S. military intention not to leave Syria violates the Geneva agreements.

"The United States believes that the right direction for Syria is regime change, as you know. Despite not demanding that Syrian President Bashar Assad resign immediately, their claims contradict the Geneva agreements,"

he said, reported Sputnik.