Trump to meet Russia’s top diplomat at the White House

It will be Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s first visit to Washington since 2013, a year before Russia’s annexation of Crimea and two years before its military intervention in Syria to help Bashar al Assad stay in power.

Photo by: (AFP)
Photo by: (AFP)

US State Secretary Rex Tillerson (L) will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about the Syria crisis amid a Russia-led push to create de-escalation zones to lower violence.

US President Donald Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat at the White House on Wednesday, to discuss Syria and a wide range of international issues, a senior US official said.

He will first hold talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then head to the White House to meet Trump.

The meetings are the highest level face-to-face contacts the new US admnistration has had with Russia since Trump took office on January 20. Each side will be keen to improve ties otherwise described by Trump as being at an "all-time low."

Lavrov's visit comes a day after Trump stunned Washington DC by firing James Comey, director of the FBI, amid an FBI investigation into whether Trump campaign aides plotted with Russia to sway the November presidential election.

Trump has said he isn’t aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian election interference calling the various investigations a "hoax."

Relations between the two former Cold War foes deteriorated under former president Barack Obama over Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its unyielding support for Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad.

Tensions escalated after the US fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Assad regime, whom Russia backs in Syria.

USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Focusing on ending the Syrian civil war

Both governments want to end the civil war in Syria that has killed up to 400,000 people, contributed to a global refugee crisis and let Daesh strengthen its position as a global terror threat.

The continued fighting between opposition forces and Assad’s military and its allies has complicated efforts to defeat Daesh.

Lavrov will be coming to the US capital with a Russian plan to end the violence, after hashing out an agreement with Turkey and Iran last week that focuses on the creation of four de-escalation zones to boost a ceasefire, ban flights and allow delivery of humanitarian aid.

Critical details still need to be finalised with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying they’re still studying the concept and its various unanswered questions.

Since 2011, several ceasefires have been agreed on but they have failed to permanently stem the fighting.

Over the past six years Moscow and Washington have sparred multiple times over the conflict in Syria, especially concerning Assad's fate.

Common position

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Moscow expected "above all coming to a common understanding on the need for de-escalation in Syria."

"If we manage to find a common position with the United States on this issue, it will be the most important result," he added.

The US State Department said that "on Syria, the secretary intends to discuss efforts to de-escalate violence, provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict."

"The sides will discuss the need to stop the violence in eastern Ukraine and resolve the conflict through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the State Department said.

The two diplomats will again meet Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska for the Arctic Council meeting, an intergovernmental forum for cooperation on the environment, oil and mining, shipping, fisheries and tourism. It brings together the eight countries bordering the Arctic Ocean -- Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, the US, Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

Tillerson and Lavrov's meeting in Alaska comes 150 years after Washington purchased Alaska from Moscow in 1867.

TRTWorld and agencies