The U.S. and Russia may find themselves working closely together on major issues in the Middle East and Asia as President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met for the first time to discuss their role in international affairs.
After his face-to-face meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany, Trump hailed “very good talks” that were widely anticipated to have revolved around Washington and Moscow’s stance on topics including the conflict in Syria and North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal. Both countries have long taken a leading role in world affairs but have increasingly diverged in their positions in recent years. Recent events, however, suggest the two nations may once again seek to work together. Ahead of Friday’s summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opened the possibility of cooperating with Russia to defeat the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria.
“While there are no perfect options for guaranteeing stability, we must explore all possibilities for holding the line against the resurgence of ISIS or other terrorist groups,” Tillerson said in a statement Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
“The United States and Russia certainly have unresolved differences on a number of issues, but we have the potential to appropriately coordinate in Syria in order to produce stability and serve our mutual security interests.”
Both the U.S. and Russia are actively involved in the fight against ISIS in Syria but back different factions in the more than six-year-long war. Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. sponsored various insurgents attempting to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which they accuse of promoting systematic political oppression and human rights abuses. As rebel groups became increasingly dominated by armed, hard-line Sunni Muslim organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the U.S. shifted its mission from trying to topple Assad, who was assisted by a direct Russian military intervention in 2015, toward stopping the spread of jihadist groups in Syria. The U.S. ultimately designated the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurd-majority coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities, as its primary local partner to assist in the fight against ISIS in its de facto capital of Raqqa.