The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three US officials said as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war.
Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren’t authorised to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said.
The two US allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria’s civil war spilling over the border.
The deal is separate from an agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran struck earlier this year to try to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria where violence would be reduced.
The US, wary of Iran’s involvement, was not a part of that deal.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the Trump administration sees no long-term role for the Assad family and the Assad regime in Syria.
Tillerson tells reporters at a briefing in Hamburg, Germany that “how” Syrian President Bashar Assad “leaves is yet to be determined.”
But he says he thinks there will be a transition away from the Assad government.
Follow-up talks this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, failed to reach agreement on how to finalise a cease-fire in those zones.
Previous cease-fires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would be any better.
Earlier in the week, Syria’s military had said it was halting combat operations in the south of Syria for four days, in advance of a new round of Russian-sponsored talks in Astana.
That move covered southern provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida. Syria’s government briefly extended that unilateral cease- fire, which is now set to expire Saturday - a day before the US and Russian deal would take effect.
The new agreement will be open-ended, with no set end date, one US official said, describing it as part of broader US discussions with Russia on trying to lower violence in the war-ravaged country.
Officials said the US and Russia were still working out the details as Mr Trump and Mr Putin concluded their more than two-hour meeting on Friday.
Implications for Syria aside, the deal marks the biggest diplomatic achievement for the US and Russia since Mr Trump took office.
Mr Trump’s administration has approached the notoriously strained relationship by trying to identify a few limited issues on which the countries could make progress, thereby building trust for a broader repair of ties.
For years, the US and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad.
Both the US and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.
The US has been resistant to letting Iran gain influence in Syria - a concern shared by Israel and Jordan, neither of which wants Iranian-aligned troops amassing near their territories.
A US-brokered deal could help the Trump administration retain more of a say over who fills the power vacuum left behind as the Islamic State is routed from additional territory in Syria. Though US and Russian officials had been discussing a potential deal for some time, it didn’t reach fruition until the run-up to Mr Trump’s meeting with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in Germany, officials said.
The Trump administration has struggled to determine how actively to involve itself in Syria’s civil war, beyond the US-led fight against the Islamic State group there.
Although Mr Trump has backed away from the previous US administration’s steadfast demand that Assad leave power, the limited US military forces on the ground in Syria have grown more assertive in recent months, especially as the prospect that IS will soon be defeated has increased the urgency of discussions about Syria’s political future.
In recent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syrian aircraft that got too close to US forces as well drones believed connected to Iranian-backed forces aligned with Assad - another sign of US concern about Tehran’s influence in Syria.
Earlier this year, Mr Trump also ordered airstrikes for the first time against Assad’s forces, aiming to punish him for using chemical weapons. Some of those steps have deepened the rift between the US and Russia over Syria, complicating efforts to work together. Russia, which has bolstered Assad through an aggressive air campaign in recent years, had troops at the Syrian air base when the US struck. And after the U.S. shot down the Syrian plane, Russia warned it would start considering US-led coalition aircraft over Syria as potential targets.
Tensions have been on the rise recently in southern Syria amid a renewed government offensive on the contested province of Daraa where western backed rebels as well as Islamic militants challenge the Syrian government’s control.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters have shifted south after the Russian-backed cease-fire that was announced in May and have been getting closer to the border with Jordan, raising concerns in the kingdom.
Israel has also struck Syrian military installations on several occasions in the past few weeks after shells landed into the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights Golan Heights.