The U.S. and Russia, along with the Kingdom of Jordan, have agreed to a ceasefire in southwest Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced at an off-camera briefing at the G20 meeting.
The ceasefire will begin on Sunday, July 9, at noon Damascus time, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and confirmed by a U.S. State Department official.
Tillerson praised the announcement as a first step in U.S.-Russian cooperation on Syria, where he said the countries have the same goals. “This is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” he said, adding later, “Russia has the same, I think, interests that we do in having Syria become a stable place, a unified place.”
Tillerson declined to say who would enforce the ceasefire, saying more meetings are scheduled in the next week to work out the details, but that the three countries have a very clear picture of who will provide security forces. At a separate press conference, Lavrov said it would be Russian military police enforcing the agreement, with close U.S. and Jordanian coordination.
Lavrov also noted there are three de-escalation zones in Syria –- Daraa, as-Suwayda and Quneitra –- where the ceasefire will be implemented. Tillerson would only describe the area as located in southwest Syria and important to Jordan’s security, as well the Syrian battlefield.
Southern Syria is mainly divided between the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, and a coalition of rebel forces known as the Southern Front, with a small pocket of ISIS-aligned fighters. While the U.S. is not fighting in this area, Lavrov said that the U.S. has pledged to guarantee those rebel groups will abide by the agreement. The State Department official confirmed the pledge, saying the U.S. is frequently engaging with opposition groups and, along with Jordan, will call on them to observe this ceasefire.
After the ceasefire agreement, Presidents Trump and Putin had a “lengthy discussion” about other areas in Syria where the two sides hope to continue to work on “de-escalating” and working toward a political process to secure the future of the Syrian people, according to Tillerson.
“We’re hoping we can replicate that elsewhere,” he added.
When asked why the U.S. has confidence a ceasefire will succeed this time after multiple failures in the past, Tillerson said what’s different now is “the level of commitment on the part of the Russian government” and “where we are relative to the whole war against ISIS.”
Both countries are looking ahead to how to stabilize Syria, he said, with the fight against ISIS “progressing rapidly.”
But there remains one big disagreement between the two countries: Tillerson noted that the U.S. sees no role for Bashar al-Assad or the Assad family.
“We’ve made it clear to everyone, we’ve certainly made it clear in our conversations with Russia, that we do not think Syria can achieve international recognition in the future — even if they work through a successful political process — the international community simply is not going to accept a Syria led by the Assad regime,” he said.
Russia is a longtime ally of the Assad regime, and Russian military forces have boosted the brutal dictator’s standing on the battlefield, over the six years since the country’s civil war began.
Tillerson made no mention of Assad’s alleged war crimes, but said if Syria wants security, an economically viable future, humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance, Assad would have to go. How he leaves could be determined later, but the political process should include a transition away from the Assad family, he added.