Tuesday December 11th, 2018 5:34PM

U.S., Russia nearing agreement on resolving Syrian civil war

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Russia are nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country's civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, officials said Thursday.

If clinched, the deal was expected to be announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam on Friday, four U.S. officials said. The United States has been reluctant to schedule a formal meeting for the leaders unless they have a substantive agreement to announce.

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 potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, 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 government and rebels — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country's future.

The U.S.-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: "deconfliction" between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks. The officials weren't authorized to discuss the deliberations and requested anonymity.

The U.S. 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 IS nearing defeat, the U.S. and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria and will remain in a proxy battle in which Russia backs Assad and the U.S. 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 U.S. and Russia announced a deal that included Jordan and established a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The United States has said that cease-fire has largely held and could be replicated elsewhere in the country.

A key U.S. concern, shared by close ally Israel, is the presence of Iranian-backed militias in Syria that have exploited the vacuum of power. The United States and Israel have been seeking ways to prevent forces loyal to Iran — Israel's archenemy — 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 United Nations effort being run out of Geneva to seek a political transition in Syria and resolve the civil war. The United States and Russia have been at odds for years over whether Assad could be allowed to remain in power in a future Syrian government.

The U.N. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-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 U.S. hasn't committed to such a meeting. Washington's concern is that it would not serve U.S. 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.

"We have been in contact with them, and the view has been if the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting?" Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday in Beijing.


Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at and Matthew Lee at

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP World News
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Trump addresses CEO summit in Vietnam
President Donald Trump says the whole world is being lifted by America's economic renewal
1:32AM ( 2 minutes ago )
The Latest: LAPD ends investigation into claims by Feldman
The Los Angeles Police Department says it is no longer investigating sexual assault claims filed by actor Corey Feldman because the statute of limitations has expired.
1:24AM ( 11 minutes ago )
U.S., Russia nearing agreement on resolving Syrian civil war
The United States and Russia are nearing an agreement on arrangements in Syria as the Islamic State group nears defeat
1:12AM ( 22 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Wilson throws 2 TD passes, Seahawks win again in Arizona
Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes to Jimmy Graham and the Seattle Seahawks added to their history of success in Arizona with a 22-16 victory over the Cardinals
11:58PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Melania Trump visits pandas at Beijing zoo
U.S. first lady Melania Trump has checked out the pandas at the Beijing zoo, before being serenaded in English and in Chinese by elementary school children
11:43PM ( 1 hour ago )
Jury convicts Marine drill instructor of abusing recruits
A Marine Corps drill instructor was guilty of physically abusing a series of young recruits, sometimes while drunk, and focusing his fury on three Muslim-American military volunteers, a military jury decided Thursday.
11:37PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Family: Woman died shielding grandson during church massacre
One of the people killed when a gunman opened fire at a small-town Texas church was a 56-year-old Sunday school teacher who relatives say threw herself in front of her 18-year-old grandson
10:58PM ( 2 hours ago )
Senate GOP tax bill would delay biz cut, undo deductions
The Senate unveils its version of the Republicans' high-stakes tax overhaul with billions in tax cuts for people and corporations and repeal of the federal deduction for state and local taxes.
10:07PM ( 3 hours ago )
Scores more Saudis detained in $100 billion corruption sweep
Saudi Arabia says 201 people detained in sweep over suspected $100 billion in embezzlement and corruption
9:23PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Trump thinks US, China could jointly solve world's problems
President Donald Trump has set aside his blistering rhetoric in favor of friendly overtures to China as he winds down a two-day visit to Beijing
7:41PM ( 5 hours ago )
Fox's Smith avoids story covered heavily by colleagues
Fox News spent nearly 12 hours talking about Hillary Clinton and a seven-year-old uranium deal the past few weeks, but anchor Shepard Smith avoided the topic entirely
7:39PM ( 5 hours ago )
Prosecutor wants probe of detective in wrongful conviction
A Kansas prosecutor has asked for help in investigating a retired white police detective accused of preying on black women for sex over decades and pursuing the wrongful murder conviction of the son of one of the women
6:44PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
The Latest: White House hails 'important step' on tax bill
The White House is praising the House Ways and Means Committee for approving the Republican Party's tax cut package
11:48PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Bannon slams Washington Post over Moore story
Steve Bannon is slamming The Washington Post as part of the "opposition party" after the newspaper reported allegations of sexual misconduct by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
10:42PM ( 2 hours ago )
Democrat leaders urge activists to stay politically involved
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison say Democrats must revitalize the party by reaching out to more people
10:32PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Pacific trade pact leaders due to meet on new deal
Pacific trade pact leaders due to meet on new deal
11:44PM ( 1 hour ago )
France's Macron heads to Riyadh from UAE in surprise trip
France's Macron makes surprise trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss Iran, war in Yemen with crown prince
10:59PM ( 2 hours ago )
Talks on Pacific trade pact resume, progress uncertain
Conflicting reports on progress toward Pacific Rim trade pact minus US as leaders gather for APEC summit
10:01PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP World News
The Latest: LAPD ends investigation into claims by Feldman
The Los Angeles Police Department says it is no longer investigating sexual assault claims filed by actor Corey Feldman because the statute of limitations has expired.
1:24AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Residents of Texas town feel helpless after church shooting
Residents of Sutherland Springs struggled to recover from the shooting at a Baptist church that left more than two dozen dead
1:04AM ( 32 minutes ago )
White House: No formal Trump-Putin meeting on Asia trip
President Donald Trump will not be having a formal sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin while the two are in town for a summit, the White House said Friday, as Trump was about to touch down in Vietnam.
12:57AM ( 39 minutes ago )
GOP leaders bolt from Senate candidate Moore after sex claim
GOP leaders bolt from Senate candidate Roy Moore after the former Alabama judge is accused of having sexual contact decades ago with a girl of 14
12:56AM ( 40 minutes ago )
Most Asian shares track Wall Street losses on US tax fears
Most Asian stock markets fell after Wall Street fell from record highs on uncertainty over President Donald Trump's tax revamp but news that Beijing will ease curbs on foreign access to some sectors buoyed Chinese shares
12:54AM ( 42 minutes ago )