09/29/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA - USA - SYRIA
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Putin and Obama attempt talks on Syria

by Nina Achmatova
Two leaders met for the first time in two years, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly: after the trading blame for current crisis in the Middle East, North Africa and Ukraine, the two presidents held talks behind closed doors. "Strong disagreement" remains over the role of Assad in the political transition, but the need for coordination has been recognized. Moscow: no need for a coalition under a single command.

Moscow (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Russia and the US have agreed on seeking a diplomatic end to the civil war in Syria, but still fall well short on resolving the central issue: the fate of the leader of Damascus Bashar Assad.

While the speeches of presidents from the podium of the General Assembly UN reiterated already known positions, expectations had been mounting on  the possible launch of US-Russia anti-Isis dialogue and a bilateral agreement between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in New York, the first in two years.

The face-to-face talks went on beyond the time foreseen by protocol (95 minutes instead of 60). The two leaders emerged with declarations that they are willing to dialogue on the future of Syria, with reference to a political transition, "strong disagreement" remained on the role of Assad, backed by Iran and opposed by Moscow and the Gulf countries, the US and Turkey.

The strengthening of the Russian military presence in Syria has raised the fear of accidental clashes between the forces on the ground (in this sense, Moscow has signed a new agreement with Israel), as well as the West's doubts about the real purpose of the Kremlin: limited to attacking Isis or all the armed groups opposed to Assad.

The novelty is that Putin said he agreed with his US colleague over the strengthening of bilateral coordination in the fight against terrorism and has not ruled out the possibility of joint anti-Isis air raids, " only if in line with international law" (that is, authorized by the UN or requested by the legitimate government of the country).

"The interview with Obama was surprisingly frank, constructive. We can work together, "said the Russian head of state in a press conference, stressing, however, that" air strikes in Syria are illegal because there is no UN authorization. Obama and Hollande are not Syrian citizens, they can not decide on the future of the country ".

Moscow rules out coalition with joint command

Putin's proposal to form an international coalition against Isis, compared to the threat of Hitler, was not warmly welcomed at the UN, even though no one expected anything different.

In an interview with Russia Today, the head of Russian diplomacy Sergey Lavrov, also in New York, excluded the formation of a " classic coalition " with a joint command, between the US and the forces fighting on the ground against the jihadists in Syria, but insisted that any intervention  "should be coordinated." According to the minister, Putin said as much to Obama.

The Federation is already moving independently of the US, who were surprised - some sources say – by the creation in Baghdad of a steering committee between Iran, Syria, Russia and Iraq regarding intelligence activities to contrast ISIS.

"We offered to aid the United States and the US-led coalition in coordinating air strikes in support of ground troops," Lavrov said, explaining that Russia has offered Washington its intelligence from the data collected by the so-called Information Center in Baghdad.

"The coalition (led by Washington) only operates air strikes, while there are the armies of Syria and Iraq, and the Kurdish groups that fight against Isis, al-Nusra Front and others on the ground," Lavrov argued.

Efforts to open a negotiating table

On a diplomatic level, Russia is piling on the pressure: shortly before Obama’s speech, Putin's deputy foreign minister in Moscow, Mikhail Bogdanov - also known as Mr, Syria given his lengthy experience in the Middle Eastern country - announced that "in October is expected that Russia and the United States will take part in peace talks on Syria together with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt”, in comments to RIA Novosti, adding that there will be a collaboration of the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, while other sources have not ruled out an invitation to European countries.

Lavrov summed up, with optimism, the historic results reached - which effectively marked the return of the Federation to the international scene after the forced isolation over its annexation of the Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis -: "The Americans have confirmed that their absolute position is to maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region. On this basis we can cooperate".

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