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Putin Says Russia and U.S. Close to Breakthrough Deal on Syria

Putin Says Russia and U.S. Close to Breakthrough Deal on Syria

(Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Friday, 02 September 2016 08:27 AM

Vladimir Putin said Russia and the U.S. are close to striking a deal on fighting terrorists in Syria that would be a major step toward ending a civil war that's flooded Europe with refugees and given rise to Islamic State.

"We're gradually, gradually heading in the right direction," the Russian president said in an interview in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok. "I don't rule out that we'll be able to agree on something in the near future and present our agreements to the international community."

Putin, a dogged critic of U.S. foreign policy, had praise for Secretary of State John Kerry, whose "patience and determination'' in pushing for an accord before Barack Obama leaves office have made a deal possible. Russia and NATO-member Turkey, a key backer of some rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are also aligning their interests in the conflict, he said.

The U.S. and Russia are intensifying efforts to find common ground in Syria, where multiple countries and multiple extremist and rebel groups have been battling each other for five-and-a-half years. Russia entered the conflict last year on behalf of Assad, launching strikes by air and sea in its first military foray outside the former Soviet Union since it collapsed a quarter century ago. Hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict and millions more have fled.

Joint Command

The U.S., which is ultimately seeking Assad's ouster, has proposed establishing a Joint Implementation Group near Amman, Jordan, in which the U.S. and Russia would coordinate on airstrikes against Syrian rebel groups that the two countries agree are terrorists, according to a text of the proposal obtained by the Washington Post.

Over the past few months, Kerry has held repeated meetings with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and, on occasion, Putin himself. A meeting between Obama and Putin may take place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in China on Sunday and Monday.

A key concern for Russia is that the former al-Qaida wing Nusra Front — which recently changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham — has in many cases teamed up with moderate rebels the U.S. supports.

The U.S. argues that Russia, which has waged an air campaign in Syria since last September, is targeting moderate rebels under the guise of fighting terrorists. Russia, on the other hand, says the U.S. is looking to block strikes on terrorist groups out of concern that the rebels it supports would be hit.

"The talks are very difficult," Putin said. "One of the key problems is that we insist, and our U.S. partners are not opposed to this, that the so-called healthy part of the opposition should be separated from the radical groups and terrorist organizations."

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Vladimir Putin said Russia and the U.S. are close to striking a deal on fighting terrorists in Syria that would be a major step toward ending a civil war that's flooded Europe with refugees and given rise to Islamic State.
vladimir putin, syria, deal, russia
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2016-27-02
Friday, 02 September 2016 08:27 AM
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