Trump and Putin agree to pursue a Syrian ceasefire

United States President Donald Trump (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Tuesday (May 2).
United States President Donald Trump (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Tuesday (May 2).PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

US, Russian leaders talking again after April's missile strike in Syria

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has reopened direct communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin and sought to reignite what he hoped would be a special relationship by agreeing to work together to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Syria.

The two leaders spoke by phone on Tuesday for the first time since their countries' ties were strained by an American missile strike on a Syrian airfield last month.

Mr Trump had ordered 59 cruise missiles launched in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that the US blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The missile strike prompted protests from Mr Assad's ally Russia, which blamed Syrian rebels for the use of outlawed nerve gas.

Statements from both the White House and the Kremlin suggested that the two leaders had a productive conversation.

The White House said the two leaders agreed that "all parties must do all they can to end the violence" in Syria. The Kremlin said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would "intensify" their dialogue to "search for options" in Syria.

The White House said the two leaders agreed that "all parties must do all they can to end the violence" in Syria. The Kremlin said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would "intensify" their dialogue to "search for options" in Syria.

But American and Russian officials offered divergent accounts of their interest in establishing safe zones in Syria to protect civilians suffering from a relentless, six-year-old civil war.

A White House statement said the two leaders had discussed such zones "to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons". The Kremlin statement made no mention of safe zones, and Mr Putin's spokesman said they had not been discussed in detail.

As peace remains elusive in Syria, the White House said Washington would send a representative to ceasefire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which began yesterday.

The State Department said Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones will attend as an observer. The decision to send Mr Jones to the talks, even as an observer, is an indication that the US is taking the Astana talks more seriously.

The White House statement said Mr Trump and Mr Putin also "spoke about how best to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea" as Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes continue to pose a major global challenge.

The Kremlin said Mr Trump and Mr Putin also discussed what could be their first face-to-face meeting in July on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany.

Tuesday's call was the third between the two since Mr Trump took office in January. It was aimed at getting past the rupture of recent weeks and beginning to forge a more collaborative relationship.

Mr Trump started his term praising Mr Putin and making it a priority to draw closer to Moscow, but his goal has been hobbled by multiple investigations into Russian meddling in last year's US presidential election and the clash over Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster described his boss' foreign policy approach as "disruptive" on the eve of the first White House meeting between Mr Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr McMaster said on Tuesday that Mr Trump's unconventional ways could create an opportunity to ultimately help stabilise the Middle East.

"The President is not a super-patient man," he said. "Some people have described him as disruptive. They're right. And this is good - good because we can no longer afford to invest in policies that do not advance the interests and values of the United States and our allies."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Trump and Putin agree to pursue a Syrian ceasefire'. Print Edition | Subscribe