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U.S.-Russian Cease-Fire Deal Touted As Start Of Syrian Peace Efforts


GERMANY G20 SUMMIT -- Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and U.S. President Donald J. Trump (R) shake hands during their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 07 July 2017.

The United States and Russia have announced a cease-fire deal in southwestern Syria in their first attempt at peacemaking in the war-torn country since President Donald Trump took office.

The cease-fire, due to start on July 9, was announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

The deal appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin, though it was months in the making.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it the "first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria" and said it would be followed by peacemaking efforts in other parts of Syria.

"We had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence, once we defeat [the Islamic State extremist group]," he said.

Tillerson said Russia and the United States would "work together towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people."

While the two countries back opposing sides in Syria's six-year civil war, Tillerson said by and large their objectives in Syria "are exactly the same."

Russia and Iran are the main allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Washington supports some of the rebel groups fighting to topple him.

A senior State Department official later said the deal could be the beginning of a more robust pacification effort in Syria, where more than half a million people have been killed and millions displaced from their homes.

"Some months ago, we made a conscious decision to focus on one part of the conflict initially, and that was the southwest. For a variety of reasons, it seemed like a more manageable part.... That doesn’t preclude a desire on our part to look at other parts of Syria in the coming weeks and months," he said.

"We are starting with fairly modest ambitions," he said, but the administration hopes the deal "sets the stage for a more auspicious environment for what we ultimately hope is a productive political process that can, that could lead to a more substantial and permanent resolution of the underlying conflict."

Previous cease-fires have failed to hold for long and it was not clear how much the actual combatants in Syria -- Assad's government, armed Syrian rebel groups, and Iranian-backed militias -- are committed to this latest effort.

The Syrian government and the Southern Front, the main grouping of Western-backed rebel groups in southwest Syria, did not immediately react to the announcement. The Syrian government had already announced a unilateral cease-fire in parts of the area.

One group of Syria rebels involved in Syrian peace negotiations said it had "great concern over the secret meetings between Russia and Jordan and America to conclude an individual deal for southern Syria in isolation from the north."

It called the cease-fire for only one region bordering Jordan an "unprecedented event" that "divides Syria and the opposition."

It was not immediately clear which areas of southwestern Syria would be covered by the cease-fire, but earlier talks between the United States and Russia about a "de-escalation zone" covered Deraa Province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon welcomed any cease-fire in Syria but wanted to see results on the ground.

"The recent history of the Syrian civil war is littered with cease-fires, and it would be nice...one day to have a cease-fire" that succeeds, he said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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