- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

During a lengthy phone call with President Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the need to keep Syria’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity intact,” the Kremlin said Tuesday.

During the more than hourlong conversation, Mr. Putin also told Mr. Trump that Syrian President Bashar Assad is in favor of holding presidential and parliamentary elections. Mr. Putin, whose military is aiding Damascus in Syria’s brutal six-year-old civil war, said Mr. Assad also agrees on the need for “constitutional reforms.”

Mr. Trump told reporters that he had a “great call” with Mr. Putin.

“We’re talking very strongly about bringing peace to Syria, we’re talking very strongly about North Korea and Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said.

The White House said in its own statement that both leaders “stressed the importance of implementing” a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for creating a transitional, united Syrian government, a new constitution and democratic elections. Those elections would be administered by the U.N. and would include refugees.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin expressed support for a U.N.-led process “to peacefully resolve the Syrian civil war, end the humanitarian crisis, allow displaced Syrians to return home, and ensure the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens,” the White House said.

“The two presidents affirmed the importance of fighting terrorism together throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and agreed to explore ways to further cooperate in the fight against ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations,” the statement said.

The discussion was a more detailed follow-up to a brief meeting the two leaders held last week during a summit in Vietnam.

The Kremlin said a political settlement in Syria should be based on principles to be worked out during an all-inclusive “internal negotiating process in Syria.”

But the fate of Mr. Assad remains a huge stumbling block to a peace settlement. Mr. Putin hosted Assad for a surprise summit at a Black Sea resort on Monday, at which the Syrian leader thanked the Russian leader for his military support. The U.S. has backed anti-Assad rebels in the Syrian war.

The talks came ahead of a summit between Mr. Putin and the leaders of Turkey and Iran on Wednesday aimed at rebooting the Syrian peace process.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin also discussed North Korea, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iran.

“Both sides expressed satisfaction with the talks which were business-like and substantial,” the Kremlin said. “Vladimir Putin informed Donald Trump of the main results of a meeting with Bashar al-Assad that took place on November 20 at which the Syrian leader confirmed his commitment to the political process, (and) conducting constitutional reform and presidential and parliamentary elections.”

The civil war sparked the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with 5.1 million people fleeing Syria.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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