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Russia Open To U.S. Plan To Create Safe Zones, If Syria Is Involved

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Group of 20 summit in Bonn.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Group of 20 summit in Bonn.

Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on creating safe zones in Syria, but believes that any such plan needs to be coordinated with the Syrian government, Moscow's top diplomat said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow on February 22 that he briefly discussed safe zones with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they met in Germany last week, but Tillerson told him the concept was still being worked out.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that he wants to set up safe zones where Syrians escaping the war can safely live rather than flee the country to become refugees in the United States and Europe. Trump instructed the U.S. Defense and State Departments to work out details of the plan.

Lavrov said Russia will wait for the United States to spell out its proposal.

"We believe that any such initiatives concerning the territory of Syria need to be coordinated with the Syrian government; otherwise it would be hard to implement them," he said.

"Having described our understanding of what we can talk about, we are waiting for clarifications from Washington," Lavrov said. "We are also ready to discuss other proposals concerning our cooperation in Syria."

Lavrov appeared to be backing the line taken by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has said that any move by outside parties to set up safe zones would be a violation of Syria's sovereignty unless it is coordinated with his government.

One of the principal concerns critics of Syrian safe zones have raised is the possibility that any enforcement of such zones by Western forces could lead to clashes with Russian and Syrian forces operating nearby.

But Trump and the Kremlin have been holding out the possibility of greater cooperation in Syria, not only on creating safe zones but particularly on battling the Islamic State group.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said on February 22 that Putin and Trump discussed possible cooperation on fighting terrorism, along with economic issues, in a January 28 phone call. He called the conversation "quite substantive," but provided no details.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, Interfax, and TASS
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