President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to speed up diplomatic efforts designed to end the bloody civil war in Syria, the White House said Tuesday.
The White House described the Tuesday phone call between the two leaders as a “very good one” and said they discussed the possibility of forming safe zones to shelter civilians fleeing the conflict. The U.S. also agreed to send representatives to cease-fire talks next month.
Trump and Putin “agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence,” the White House said.
It was their first conversation since the U.S. launched a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base last month in response to a chemical attack that the Trump administration has said was carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The strike sparked a major diplomatic row with Moscow, which has support Assad's administration during the nation's civil war. Assad is also Putin’s chief ally in the Middle East, and Russian military personnel were stationed at the air base that was targeted, though no Russian forces were known to be harmed in the strike.
Following the strike, top White House officials slammed Putin’s government for failing to uphold a deal brokered under former President Obama to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and accused it of trying to cover up Assad’s involvement in the chemical attack.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared during a mid-April visit to Moscow that U.S.-Russia relations had hit a “low point” marked by serious mistrust over the Syrian conflict.
Those comments came after the Kremlin floated the possibility that the chemical attack was staged in order to create pretext for a U.S. military strike.
Tuesday’s call was an effort to cool those tensions.
Trump is hoping that Putin will apply pressure on North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons activity, a topic they spoke about during their conversation, according to the White House and the Kremlin.
Putin reportedly offered an olive branch to Trump: Both men spoke about arranging a meeting tied to a Group of 20 summit meeting in Germany this summer, the Kremlin said, according to the Russia-based Interfax news agency.