The incoming Trump team has a quick shot at averting worse disasters in Syria, with its new Russian gambit.
In the week after his inauguration, President Trump will have an unusual opportunity to put his new diplomatic designs to the test in, of all places, Astana, the remote capital of Kazakhstan. If this sounds like a Borat joke, it isn’t. Astana is where Russia is convening a deadly serious new round of Syrian peace talks, to which it ostentatiously invited the incoming administration.
The Trump team has not yet publicly responded to this invitation, but it should seize the chance to work with Russia and others on the intractable Syria problem, in a way that long eluded the Obama team. If the Astana conference is too soon for serious input from Washington, a follow-up, unsponsored February 8 meeting in Geneva will provide a perfect second chance.
There is nothing new, or necessarily bad, about trying to work with Russia on Syria. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry tried that for the past four years. They failed, with the limited exception of the 2013 deal to rid the Assad regime of most (though not all) of its chemical weapons. For President Trump to renew this effort would make eminent good sense — provided that this time it offers a realistic prospect of achieving positive American objectives, rather than simply buying time for the negative Russian one of keeping Assad in power at any price.
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