US President Donald Trump described an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as “very, very good” on Wednesday, claiming progress on ending the conflict in Syria.
“We had a very, very good meeting” Trump said shortly after the meeting. “We’re going to stop the killing and the death (in Syria).”
Lavrov on Wednesday became the most senior Russian official to meet Trump since he came to office, and the most high-profile Kremlin official to visit the White House in years.
It is rare for a foreign minister — or any non-head of state representing a foreign country — to be given a meeting in the Oval Office.
“I think that we are going to do very well with respect to Syria, I think things are happening — they are really, really, really positive,” Trump said.
In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin met his security council to discuss US-Russian relations in the context of Lavrov’s meeting with Trump, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Lavrov first holds talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then goes on to the White House to meet Trump.
Relations between the two former Cold War foes soured under former president Barack Obama over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its unyielding support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since March 2011, the Syrian conflict has caused more than 320,000 deaths and forced millions of refugees to flee. Since the end of Obama’s presidency in January, the US has gradually withdrawn from the diplomatic process, leaving Russia to take the lead.
The US was not part of a deal by government backers Russia and Iran, and rebel supporter Turkey, signed last Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana on establishing safe zones in Syria.
Washington has given the deal a sceptical welcome, citing concerns about Iran’s role as a guarantor even as it expressed hope the agreement could set the stage for a later settlement.
“We will look at the proposal, see if it can work,” Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said on Monday.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Moscow expected “above all coming to a common understanding on the need for de-escalation in Syria.”
Separately, the Pentagon said Trump had authorised the arming of Kurdish fighters within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “to ensure a clear victory over Daish in Raqa.”
The YPG hailed the move as “historic” and said it would now play “a more influential, powerful, and decisive role” in fighting Daish.YPG spokesman Redur Xelil described the move as “somewhat late,” but would still “provide a strong impetus” to all forces fighting Daish.
Turkey on Wednesday slammed the move as unacceptable. The issue risks further stoking tensions between Ankara and Washington less than a week before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to Washington.