Russia bypasses Obama, invites Trump to Syria talks
NEW YORK - Russia has invited Donald Trump's incoming administration to attend upcoming Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan, The Washington Post reported Friday, bypassing the Obama administration which has been notably absent from the process.
Turkey, which is co-hosting the talks with Russia, has said Washington would be asked to join the talks being held in the Kazakh capital Astana, likely on January 23. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that invitations to attend the peace talks in Astana were likely to be sent out next week, with both Turkey and Russia agreeing that the United States should be involved.
But there has been no confirmation from Moscow, and the current US administration said Friday it had not been asked to take part.
"We have not received any kind of formal invitation to the meeting," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
"But if we do receive an invitation, we will certainly make a recommendation" to Trump's incoming administration to honor it, he said.
The timetable would put the meeting just three days after the Republican president-elect takes office on January 20, succeeding the Democrat Barack Obama.
Invitations to the talks have yet to be sent out, and the format of the discussions remains unclear.
But according to The Washington Post, the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, extended an invitation to attend the upcoming talks in a December 28 telephone conversation with Trump's incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn.
The Post quoted an unidentified official with Trump's transition team as saying that "no decision was made" during the call, adding: "I don't have anything additional on US attendance at this time."
Russia's deputy foreign minister on Saturday declined to comment on reported calls between president-elect Donald Trump's incoming national security advisor and Moscow's ambassador to Washington.
Asked to comment on the reported calls, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told RIA Novosti news agency that "we don't comment on daily working contacts of our embassy or foreign ministry representatives with colleagues from other countries, including the United States."
Trump's incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the pair spoke by phone on December 28 about "the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in, and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call."
He added: "That was it. Plain and simple."
The talks on the future of Syria were announced in late December after a nationwide ceasefire was secured. They are being organized for the first time without the involvement of Washington, which had led all the international discussions to resolve the Syrian crisis in recent years.
Though the United States has not been a direct party to this specific initiative, Toner said, "we have been in close contact with both the Russians and the Turks as this has gone forward."
"And, we would encourage the incoming administration to continue to pursue those efforts."
Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is also involved in setting up talks aimed at paving the way to an end of the nearly six-year conflict.
Russia, which is counting on improved relations with the United States under the Trump presidency after strains with Obama, refused Friday to say whether Washington should be invited to Astana.
Russia, a key Assad ally, is "interested in the broadest possible representation of the parties who have a bearing on the prospects of a political settlement in Syria," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The Astana meeting should serve as a preamble to the next round of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva on February 8 under the auspices of the United Nations.
"Our recommendation would be -- and we've said this before -- that we support any effort aimed at getting political negotiations back up and running in Geneva and aimed at solidifying the cease-fire in Syria," the US State Department spokesman said.