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Russia, US discuss de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest — Lavrov

Moscow and Washington held consultations on the de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest

MOSCOW, November 14. /TASS/. Moscow and Washington discussed the de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest and the text of the deal is open for public scrutiny, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.

"In particular, we discussed with the Americans a mechanism for the de-escalation zone’s operation in Syria’s southwest," Russia’s top diplomat pointed out. "This is an open agreement and its text is available," Lavrov said, adding that Jordanian representatives also took part in hammering out the deal.

"Informal consultations were held with Israel taking into consideration that this zone is in direct proximity to the Golan Heights," he noted.

According to Russia’s top diplomat, Russia and the US "did not discuss specifically and in detail" the developments in Syria. "We state the fact of our and Iranian legitimate presence at the invitation of the legitimate government. We also state the fact of the illegitimate presence of the coalition that has been forged by the United States and which carries out military operations, including independent ones, primarily providing support for the opposition armed groups on Syrian soil and in its airspace," the minister stressed.

Lavrov added that the withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces from Syria was not discussed at the talks with the US. "Neither Iran nor pro-Iranian units were discussed," the minister said. "If we talk about pro-Iranian forces, some may be tempted to call the entire Syrian army pro-Iranian. Should it surrender in that case? I believe this is what they call wishful thinking."

"Seeking non-Syrian units’ withdrawal from the line of engagement in this difficult region of Syria is that what we agreed on," Lavrov explained. However, in his view, the biggest threat is Syria today is posed by US-backed militants. "If one looks at who poses the biggest threat, it is the United States’ charges, specifically, various foreign terrorists and militants, who ‘cling’ to those armed opposition groups backed by the US," the foreign minister said commenting on recent statements by US Department of State officials who said Washington had secured Moscow’s promise to ensure the withdrawal of pro-Iranian units from Syria and prevent their consolidation in the country.

"As for Al-Bukamal, this is not the only example of attempts by the US to spare the terrorists," he emphasized. "We remember that during the operation to liberate Raqqa, as well as in Iraq’s Mosul, the gates were, so to say, were thrown open for the Islamic State terror group [IS, outlawed in Russia - TASS]," Lavrov said. "There are a lot of questions to ask about the United States’ goals in Syria, because US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told me many times that their only goal is to defeat IS," Lavrov said. 

"Only yesterday I heard US Secretary of Defense James Mattis say that the US is not leaving Syria until it can be confirmed that the political process is moving in the right direction," the Russian top diplomat continued. "And it is the change of regime that the US considers to be the right direction. It all runs contrary to the Geneva agreements and the US State Department’s assurances that the US only goal in Syria is to fight terrorism," Lavrov said.

"We have put all these questions before our US counterparts. I hope, they will take a clear, open and honest stance," the Russian foreign minister concluded.

Astana talks

Moscow believes that Astana talks, and the assembly of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will help the Geneva Syrian peace process to succeed, he added.

"The statement approved by Russian and US Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump does contain reference to the importance of the Geneva process," Lavrov said. "The statement calls on all Syrian parties to support the Geneva political process. Then a very important addition follows: ‘to support efforts to ensure its success.’ The efforts contributing to the success of the Geneva process are chiefly what is being done in Astana and, I hope, preparations to convene the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will contribute to the attempt to reach this achievement.