A new Syrian ceasefire offers an early test of Trump’s friendship with Putin

The Washington Post reports: The first attempt by the Trump administration to cooperate with Russia on an international crisis got underway on Sunday, with the implementation of a cease-fire in southwestern Syria that appeared to be widely holding.

If the truce can be maintained, it could open the door to deeper cooperation between the United States and Russia on ways to quell the violence and to progress on other cease-fire deals being pressed elsewhere in Syria.

The guns fell silent well ahead of a noon deadline, residents in the cease-fire zone said, lending hope that it would stop the violence for at least a while and save lives.

The agreement to work on a cease-fire in Syria was the first publicized achievement of the meeting on Friday between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Details remain vague, however, and it is unclear whether the agreement will lead to cooperation toward an enduring solution to Syria’s six-year-old war.

This cease-fire is being referred to by the two powers as a “de-escalation,” reflecting the modest expectations for success after several previous failed attempts by President Obama to work with Russia to end the fighting.

What makes this effort different, however, is that the peace push is now being driven by Russia, which took the lead in international diplomacy after the defeat of the Syrian rebels in their Aleppo stronghold in December.

The cease-fire signals U.S. acquiescence to a broader Russian plan to end the violence by creating a series of de-escalation zones around the country, to be sponsored by the regional or international powers with influence in each area. An attempt to consolidate a similar de-escalation zone in the north in collaboration with Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor, has already somewhat reduced the violence there.

This accord creates a separate mechanism for the United States and Jordan to use their influence with allied rebels in southwestern Syria to halt the fighting while Russia exerts pressure on its ally, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The area affected by the cease-fire includes Daraa, the city where the revolt against Assad first flared in 2011, and where intensified fighting occurred in recent months, with the government launching an offensive aimed at recapturing the city. Also covered is the neighboring province of Quneitra, which has been a flash point in recent months between Israel and government forces, including the Iranian-backed militias whose advances toward the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have alarmed Tel Aviv. [Continue reading…]

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