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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Trump and Putin endorse political solution to Syria conflict

After meeting in Vietnam, US and Russian leaders issue statement backing UN's Geneva process

US president Donald Trump chats with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Apec economic leaders' meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / AFP
US president Donald Trump chats with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Apec economic leaders' meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / AFP

The US and Russian presidents on Saturday expressed their commitment to finding a political solution to Syria's civil war through United Nations-backed talks, raising hopes for an end to a six-year conflict in which their countries have backed opposing sides.

President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria”, according to a joint statement issued by the two leaders after a brief meeting during an economic summit in Vietnam.

“They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to [UN Security Council resolution] 2254. They also took note of [Syrian president Bashar] Al Assad's recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254."

The resolution, passed unanimously in December 2015, called for a ceasefire and the holding of elections under UN supervision.

The next round of UN talks in Geneva is scheduled for November 28. The last meeting in July was the seventh between Syria’s warring factions. They have produced few results so far, with opposition figures fighting among themselves and representatives of Mr Al Assad's government refusing to meet directly with opposition officials.

Opposition leaders have also refused to drop their demand that the Syrian president step down from his position — a demand that looks increasingly unlikely to be met. His government, with strong backing from the Russian military and a host of militia forces, this year regained much of the territory taken in the first years of the war.

While Russia, Iran and Turkey have sponsored informal talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana that have led to ceasefire agreements, the areas outlined in those agreements remain some of the most violent parts of Syria, including some of Damascus’s eastern suburbs, where the government’s forces are imposing a siege against more than 300,000 people. That has resulted in infants dying from illnesses exacerbated by malnutrition, and doctors say the numbers of those at risk is growing.

Mr Trump and Mr Putin also "confirmed their determination to defeat ISIL", which has now been driven out of almost all of the territory it seized in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Syria’s government declared victory over ISIL on Thursday after announcing that its forces, supported by allied militias including the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hizbollah, had retaken Albu Kamal, the extremists’ last urban stronghold in the country. But the militants recaptured the border town on Saturday, a group monitoring the Syrian conflict said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pro-government forces had been driven about two kilometres out of the town on the Syria-Iraq border.

Across the border, ISIL lost more of its last piece of Iraqi territory on Saturday as Iraqi infantry divisions and Sunni tribal forces captured several villages in an advance on the small town of Rawa, an military commander told Agence France-Presse.

Last week, Iraqi forces recaptured the larger town of Al Qaim nearby, in what prime minister Haider Al Abadi called "record time".

Iran-backed Iraqi militias fighting alongside government troops then crossed the border to attack ISIL in Albu Kamal, a symbolic representation of what opponents of Iran’s influence in the region fear most: a land corridor between Iran and Lebanon that would allow Iran to directly ship weapons to Hizbollah.

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