World

US near deal with Russia on Syria’s future

US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders gala dinner in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEVMIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had only an informal meeting at the Asia-Pacific economic conference in Vietnam.

WASHINGTON — The United States and Russia are nearing an agreement on how they hope to manage the Syrian civil war once the Islamic State is defeated, officials said Thursday.

The plan was being worked on amid talk of an informal meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific economic conference in Vietnam, US officials said.

But although Trump and Putin greeted each other Friday after their arrival in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said they won’t hold a formal meeting because of scheduling conflicts.

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The potential understanding on Syria comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of ISIS, the extremist group that once controlled vast tracts in both Iraq and Syria.

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Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country’s future.

The US-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: ‘‘deconfliction’’ between the US and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the deliberations and requested anonymity.

The US and Russian militaries have maintained a ‘‘deconfliction’’ hot line for years to avoid unintended collisions and even potential confrontations as they each operate in Syria’s crowded skies. A heavy air campaign by Russia has been credited with shoring up the position of Assad, a close ally of Moscow.

With ISIS nearing defeat, the United States and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria and will remain in a proxy battle in which Russia backs Assad and the United States lends at least rhetorical support to armed opposition groups fighting the government.

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That has increased the need for close communication between the two powers about where their forces are operating at any given time, officials said.

The agreement also seeks to build on progress in establishing ‘‘de-escalation zones’’ in Syria that have calmed some parts of the country.

In July, when Trump held his first meeting with Putin in Germany, the United States and Russia announced a deal that included Jordan and established a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The United States has said that cease-fire has largely held and could be replicated elsewhere in the country.

Associated Press