Saturday, July 8, 2017

United States and Russia agree to a ceasefire and de-escalation zone in southwest Syria

The US together with Russia and Jordan have agreed to a ceasefire in the southwestern area of Syria. The ceasefire was reported after the meeting of Putin and Trump on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg. The meeting was exceedingly long lasting a full two hours and twenty minutes. There is also a more general ceasefire that came into force back at the end of December 2016. Despite many reported violations it appears to be generally holding. The UN Security Council passed a resolution last December supporting the ceasefire.

The ceasefire is to take effect on July 9 at noon Damascus time. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the announcement after Trump's meeting with Putin. Lavrov said: “In this zone [in southern Daraa, Quneitra and As-Suwayda provinces] the ceasefire regime will take effect on July 9 starting 12:00 Damascus time. The US took an obligation that all the militant groups, located there, will comply with the ceasefire.” It remains to be seen if all the groups are willing to comply with the ceasefire. A separate agreement for a  de-escalation zone was negotiated by experts from Russia, Jordan, and the US in Amman the capital of Jordan. Lavrov said: “At first, the security around this de-escalation zone will be maintained with the help of Russian military police in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a news conference that the ceasefire agreement indicates that the US and Russia can work together on the Syrian crisis. No doubt many critics of an accommodation of the US with Russia will be critical of this development even though any cessation of hostilities one would think is positive. It may pave the way for an eventual political solution. Tillerson said: "I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas." The present deal is separate from a draft agreement worked out earlier this year during talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, sponsored by Iran and attended by Russia, Turkey, the Syrian government and some representatives of the armed opposition. A final agreement has yet to be signed.

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