As the US media parses President Trump’s confusing comments that he believes the contradictory positions of both the US intelligence agencies and Vladimir Putin, the White House is moving ahead with important bilateral cooperation with Russia.
On Saturday, the two countries released a joint statement on cooperation in Syria, an issue on which the Trump administration has long expressed the desire to work with Moscow. In the statement, both sides expressed the need to facilitate UN-led efforts to effect a political resolution to the conflict, including eventually holding UN-supervised elections.
“So the presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the blueprint for a political transition outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and that means negotiation under UN auspices in Geneva to draft a new constitution and hold UN-supervised elections to the highest international standards with the Syrian diaspora,” a breifing on the statement published on the US State Department website said.
The statement also expressed the commitment of both countries to eliminate the presence of non-Syrian foreign forces operating in the country. According to the briefing, this includes a commitment from Russia to eliminate from Syria Iranian-backed militias such as Lebanese Hizbollah, as well as commitment from the US to do the same with foreign jihadi groups.
“The statement reflects agreement that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict; the conflict can only be resolved long-term through peaceful political negotiations,” the State Department release stressed.
“So today, importantly, President Trump and President Putin expressed their satisfaction with these arrangements and confirmed that they would continue until the final defeat – the final defeat of ISIS – is achieved.”
In the lead up to Trump’s visit to Asia, US press coverage devoted a great deal of attention to speculation as to whether Trump would meet with Putin at all, as an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia continues. Following Trump’s interactions with Putin on his trip, coverage has largely ignored substantive areas of bilateral cooperation between Russia and the US, focusing instead on Trump’s comments that Putin “means it” when he assured he did not meddle in the US election. Trump later added that he also believes the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the US election under Putin’s direction.
Last January, the FBI, CIA, and NSA concluded that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.”
After Trump’s last meeting with Putin in July, he was roundly ridiculed by members of both parties after proposing that the US and Russia team up to form an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”