U.S. and Russia Confirm: Trump and Putin Agree on Cease-fire in Southwestern Syria

Jordan and Israel are also part of the agreement, official says ■ Lavrov says Russian troops will enforce cease-fire, but Tillerson says issue still undecided

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg
Evan Vucci/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed on a cease-fire deal in southwestern Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit, following a much-anticipated first meeting between the two leaders.

"It is our first success," said Tillerson in reference to cooperation between Trump's White House and the Kremlin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the U.S. 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, U.S. officials told AP.

Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. 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.

Tillerson and Lavrov, who held separate press conferences after the Trump and Putin meeting, contradicted each other over who will monitor the cease-fire in southwestern Syria. Lavorv said that Russian military police will ensure the cease-fire's implementation, while Tillerson said that the issue was still under discussion.

On Friday, Haaretz reported that an American envoy came to Israel two weeks ago and held talks with senior Israeli officials about establishing de-escalation zones, otherwise known as safe zones, in southern Syria near the Israeli and Jordanian borders as part of an effort to end Syria’s civil war.

Israel told Washington that it opposes having Russian forces supervise what happens in these zones, senior Israeli officials said.

One of Israel’s main concerns is how the cease-fire would be enforced in areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders and who would be responsible for enforcing it. A senior Israeli official said Russia has proposed that its army handle the job in southern Syria. But Israel vehemently opposes this idea and has made that clear to the Americans, he said.

Israel would prefer to have American troops enforce the cease-fire in southern Syria. The Trump Administration is considering this idea, but hasn’t yet decided.

On Thursday, a day before Trump's meeting with Putin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement indicating that America might consider sending troops to the de-escalation zones.

“The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground cease-fire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance," he said.

Israel believes the outcome of the Trump-Putin meeting will determine whether the idea of de-escalation zones is seriously pursued. Netanyahu discussed the idea with Putin by telephone on Thursday. 

The new agreement to be announced Friday will be open-ended, one U.S. official said, describing it as part of broader U.S. discussions with Russia on trying to lower violence in the war-ravaged country. Officials said the U.S. and Russia were still working out the details as Trump and Putin concluded their more than two-hour meeting on Friday.

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 Russia-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 U.S. and Russian deal would take effect.

The U.S. 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 U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

The U.S. has been wary of 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 U.S.-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 U.S. and Russian officials had been discussing a potential deal for some time, it didn't reach fruition until the run-up to Trump's meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in Germany, officials said.