A day prior to the resumption of the Astana Peace Talks on Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have held a phone call to discuss each side’s position on Syria and other pressing matters. America has no official role in Astana, but will be keenly interested in the results of this round of discussions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a summary of the conversation’s subject matter as well as confirming a meeting between the two diplomats next week,
“Certain issues of bilateral relations were discussed. The schedule of the upcoming Russian-American contacts [was discussed as well], in particular, the meeting on the sidelines of the ministerial Arctic Council talks in Fairbanks (US) was confirmed to be held on May 10-11. The heads of foreign services also exchanged opinions on the Astana international talks on Syria which is to be held on May 3-4”.
Rex Tillson had previously visited Moscow for the first time as Secretary of State in April. The meeting came shortly after President Putin said that after America’s illegal bombing of Syria on the 6th of April, Russia-US relations had “eroded”.
During his press conference with Sergey Lavrov, Rex Tillerson maintained his professionalism, but ultimately he was widely seen as losing the factual and logical arguments with Lavrov.
The contents of a meeting Tillerson held earlier that afternoon with Vladimir Putin were not disclosed by either side.
Today’s phone call and next week’s meeting do not represent a revival of the détente policies that many had hoped for upon Donald Trump’s inauguration, but it does show that after a difficult period in early April of 2017, both sides are at least communicating with each other.
This comes as US troops in Syria seem to have backed away from any attempts at conducting regime change. Indeed, the short honeymoon between Ankara and Washington, when Turkish President President Erdogan got strongly behind America’s flirtation with regime change, has come to a crashing end.
US troops are now stationed on the Turkey/Syria border in order to prevent Turkish forces and their proxy jihadists FSA from attacking the US backed Kurdish led SDF.
With Donald Trump apparently backing off of hard military action in both Syria and North Korea, it seems that the US may be rethinking the ideological zeal which defined the third month of the still very young Trump Presidency.
It is far too early to say whether this will result in a return to the foreign policy pragmatism that Trump promised throughout his campaign and initial months in the White House. However, it is still a very small step in the right direction. That being said, I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.