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What’s next for Syria after Helsinki summit?

The meeting between the Russian and US presidents did as little for the Middle East as it possibly could, though the two leaders seemed to identify Syria as a good place to rebuild US-Russian cooperation.

MOSCOW — The summit in Helsinki between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was arguably this summer’s most anticipated political event. While the meeting might have turned a new page in the US-Russian relationship, it also sparked a surge of opposition to Trump over what is seen as Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, an issue Putin has continuously dismissed as mere domestic political strife. The two men seemed to dedicate the lion’s share of their more than two-hour-long, face-to-face meeting to this issue.

Against this background, matters concerning the Middle East appeared rather marginal. In a way, it is a manifestation that contrary to the widespread belief that the Middle East is a dominating issue for Moscow and Washington, the region, including the conflict in Syria, actually ranks low on the US-Russian agenda. Yet given the geopolitical complexities and, most important, the close proximity within which the Russian and US militaries have been operating, neither the Kremlin nor the White House can ignore the region, and there are good reasons to view Syria as a good place to start bridging the divide between the two powers.

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