Obama, Putin discuss Syria after Russia withdrawal
The White House said Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin discussed Russia’s planned military drawdown in Syria on Monday, hours after a shock announcement that signals a new phase in the five-year-old conflict.
“They discussed President Putin’s announcement today of a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria and next steps required to fully implement the cessation of hostilities,” the White House said in a statement.
US officials earlier offered a cautious initial assessment of Putin’s order to begin withdrawing “the main part of our military contingents from the Syrian Arab Republic” from Tuesday.
Putin launched air strikes in September followed by a massive troop deployment, turning the tide of a long and brutal war in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor, rescuing his regime from the brink of collapse.
A recent “cessation of hostilities” has been frequently breached but, Obama said, led to a “much-needed reduction in violence.”
The White House sought to turn the screws on Assad, just as his backing from Russia was called into question.
“Continuing offensive actions by Syrian regime forces risk undermining both the Cessation of Hostilities and the UN-led political process,” the White House cited Obama as saying.
“The president also noted some progress on humanitarian assistance efforts in Syria but emphasized the need for regime forces to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance delivery to the agreed-upon locations, notably Daraya.”
Putin’s announcement appeared timed to coincide with peace talks in Geneva that have been dominated by a disagreement over Assad’s fate.
Russia has remained steadfast in its public support of Assad, while opposition groups, the United States and key European countries have called on Assad to go as part of a negotiated transition.
“A political transition is required to end the violence in Syria,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, Russia’s move to begin withdrawing from Syria should be seen as a positive sign for the ceasefire, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday.
Speaking in Canberra after meeting with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, Zarif underlined Iran’s stance on the need for a ceasefire and a political solution in Syria.
“The fact that a semi-ceasefire has been holding in Syria is welcome news, it’s something that we’ve been asking for at least two-and-a-half, three years,” he said.
“The fact that Russia announced that it’s withdrawing part of its forces indicates that they don’t see an imminent need for resort to force in maintaining the ceasefire.
“That in and of itself should be a positive sign. Now we have to wait and see.”
President Vladimir Putin called long-standing ally Bashar al-Assad on Monday to inform him that Moscow will withdraw the bulk of its forces from Syria, a move hailed by the United Nations Security Council as a “positive step” for the fraught peace negotiations.
But hopes for a breakthrough at the Geneva talks remain remote with both sides locked in a bitter dispute over the future of the Syrian president.