US President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin released a joint statement announcing their intention to “defeat” Islamic State in Syria, following an unofficial meeting the pair held on the sidelines of a Saturday economic summit in Vietnam.
The statement released shortly after the pair’s meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit said the two “confirmed their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria,” using another name for IS.
Trump and Putin also stated that there is “no military solution” to the Syrian civil war.
Nonetheless, they pledged to preserve existing Russian-US military communication channels to avoid “serious incidents involving the forces of partners combating IS.”
Earlier Saturday, the Kremlin issued a statement saying the leaders had reached agreement on principles for Syria’s future now that the Islamic State group has largely been pushed out. Among the agreement’s key points, according to the Russians, were an affirmation of de-escalation zones, a system to prevent dangerous incidents between American and Russian forces and a commitment to a peaceful solution.
The Kremlin quickly promoted the agreement as the White House stayed silent. Trump told reporters that the deal was reached “very quickly” and that it would save “tremendous numbers of lives.” And he praised his relationship with Putin, saying the two “seem to have a very good feeling for each other and a good relationship, considering we don’t know each other well.”
With its collapse in the strategic Iraqi town of Boukamal, on Thursday, the Islamic State group has no major territory left in Syria or Iraq. Its militants are believed to have pulled back into the desert, east and west of the Euphrates River. The group has a small presence near the capital, Damascus. Late Thursday, the extremist group carried out a counteroffensive in Boukamal, regaining control of more than 40 percent of the border town.
Both leaders sought to dampen claims of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, with the Russian leader branding the accusations as “fantasies.”
Trump, whose key former aides are under a US investigation for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin, said he repeatedly asked Putin about the claims during their chats at the APEC summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang.
“He (Putin) said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for a state visit.
“You can only ask so many times… He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” he said, adding he felt Putin seemed “very insulted” by the persistent accusations, which have dogged Trump throughout the year since his shock poll win.
Trump and Putin met three times on the margins of the APEC summit, sharing warm handshakes and brief words.
The exchanges produced a rare common ground on the war in Syria, a bloody six-year conflict which has seen the US and Russia back competing factions.