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U.S. looking to agreements with Russia over Syria

Eastern Syrian city of Dair Alzour as government forces battle Islamic State in early November. (AFP / Getty Images)
Eastern Syrian city of Dair Alzour as government forces battle Islamic State in early November. (AFP / Getty Images)

The U.S. is nearing agreement with Russia on establishing additional ceasefire zones in Syria, a key step to finally resolving that country's brutal civil war.

Some officials had suggested agreement could be announced in a meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of Friday's Asia summit in Vietnam. Moscow announced the meeting would take place, but the White House has said no "formal" encounter is planned.

Nevertheless, State Department officials said that as the battle in Syria shifts from fighting the largely defeated Islamic State, more attention is focusing on the festering civil war and post-war reconstruction. Russia backs the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad while the U.S. at least nominally  supports an armed opposition.

The U.S. and Russia in July agreed on a ceasefire region in southeastern Syria that has more or less held fast. 

"If we can get to another ceasefire zone, that helps get us closer to the Geneva process," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, alluding to the Geneva-based peace process for Syria led by the United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The U.S. and Russia have also been working together on "deconfliction," meaning establishing procedures for avoiding running into each other on the battlefield or on bombing runs in the skies over Syria.

And the U.S. is taking steps to attempt to contain Iran's influence in the region, inviting Saudi Arabia, archrival of Iran, to pay for and oversee large-scale reconstruction in parts of Syria and Iraq once controlled by Islamic State. Iran has been allied with Russia and Assad in the Syria war.


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