In true Trump fashion, the U.S. president caused a political storm by agreeing to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
The press conference following the meeting included remarks on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the denuclearization of North Korea, and the crisis in Syria, among others issues.
Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, joined KPFA to discuss the aforementioned, and to provide deeper insight into what this meeting means for Syria, in particular.
“What is clear,” said Bennis, “is that the war in Syria… is still continuing. People are still being killed.”
Syria was, according to Trump and Putin’s post-meeting press conference, a critical topic during their dialogue.
Referencing Syria’s current state, Bennis added that “Russian, as well as U.S. backed forces, are fighting each other,” and that Syria could potentially be a “trigger point for a rapid and massive escalation of the existing tensions” between the two.
Both Trump and Putin reflected on their discussion of how to handle the crisis in Syria with relative optimism.
As Putin put it, “the task of peace and reconciliation in [Syria] could be the first showcase example of this successful, joint work” between the U.S. and Russia.
Bennis interpreted both Trump and Putin’s statements regarding Syria as saying, “we might try and work out a resolution without the Syrians being at the center of it,” an outcome Bennis called unacceptable.
Instead, Bennis urged both sides to pull back from their sponsorship of warring factions in Syria.
Another possible route toward addressing the conflict in Syria, Bennis said, is promoting adherence to the Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement of 1974 — which, as it currently stands, is being ignored. According to Bennis, that would mean the establishment of a peacekeeping or peace-observer force in the Golan Heights to monitor both Syrian and Israeli forces.
Bennis also addressed Trump’s endorsement of Putin’s denial about Russian meddling in U.S. elections, in contradiction to evidence provided by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. (Trump later claimed he “misspoke.”)
“I think [Trump] recognized that politically, for his base, he needed to come out and talk about the election,” said Bennis, who emphasized the language in which Putin described the issue. As Bennis noted, it was explained that the Russian “state” has never interfered in U.S. internal affairs, which could bear significance.
And then there is the issue of nuclear proliferation. “There was no indication that they had discussed U.S.-Russian arrangements on denuclearization,” Bennis lamented.
Bennis noted that the Non-Proliferation Treaty requires that official nuclear weapons states “move toward full and complete nuclear disarmament.” That resolution is “routinely ignored,” said Bennis.