By Toluse Olorunnipa
President Donald Trump said the U.S. is working to expand a regional cease-fire in the Syrian civil war to a second zone, saying it may prove to be the first step toward ending a civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and sent millions more fleeing.
Trump said Thursday in Paris that the cease-fire in southwest Syria that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to impose after their July 7 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, has saved “a lot of lives.”
“We’re working on a second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria,” Trump said during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. “And if we get that, and a few more, all of a sudden you’re going to have no bullets being fired in Syria. And that would be a wonderful thing.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week in Istanbul that the U.S. and Turkey were beginning to rebuild trust and could come to an agreement about northern Syria, where the U.S. backs a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
During his first visit to Paris as president, Trump focused on the civil war in Syria and the broader coalition fight against Islamic State in meetings with Macron and U.S. military officials.
After Iraqi forces recaptured the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, the U.S. and allies are considering the best options for maintaining peace in the region.
Trump told Reuters in an interview Wednesday that the fight against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria was “almost complete.”
France was the first European country to join U.S. air attacks on Islamic State in Iraq and then Syria, and French special forces and an artillery unit supported Iraqi troops in their battle for Mosul. Trump and Macron spoke by phone last month and agreed to carry out joint airstrikes should the Syrian regime use chemical weapons again.
While the U.S. State Department has continued to say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won’t be part of Syria’s long-term future, Macron said Thursday that representatives of Assad’s regime and the opposition should both be involved in drawing up a road map for postwar Syria.
Saying that “France’s priority in Syria is eradicating terrorist groups,” Macron said, “I do not require Assad’s departure. This is not a prerequisite.”