National Security

Trump Jr. holds private talks on Syria with pro-Russia figure: report


Donald Trump Jr. held private talks with a pro-Russia figure in Paris last month that included how the U.S. might cooperate with Russia to bring an end to the civil war in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Oct. 11 meeting reportedly included 30 diplomats, businessmen and politicians. It was hosted by a French think tank founded by Fabien Baussart, who, along with wife Randa Kassis, has worked with Russia to bring an end to the violence.

{mosads}Kassis, who was born in Syria, heads an opposition group that seeks to cooperate with President Bashar al-Assad to ensure a smooth political transition in Syria. The group is endorsed by Moscow. 

Kassis reported that she pressed President-elect Donald Trump’s son on the need for cooperation with Russia to bring an end to the conflict.

“We have to be realistic. Who’s on the ground in Syria? Not the U.S., not France,” Kassis told the Journal from Moscow. “Without Russia, we can’t have any solution in Syria.”

“I think he’s very pragmatic and is flexible,” Kassis said of Trump Jr.
Kassis said she has discussed the meeting with senior Russian officials, including Russian foreign ministry deputy head Mikhail Bogdanov.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to the president-elect, confirmed Trump Jr.’s attendance at the October meeting but downplayed the discussions about Syria, according to the Journal.
“Don was addressing a roundtable in Paris, and he was present for that talk and at a group dinner for 30 people,” she told the Journal. “This event featured a number of opinion leaders from all over the world who were interested in the U.S. elections.”
News of Trump Jr.’s meeting comes as critics of the president-elect continue to express concern about his allegedly cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Donald Trump vowed warmer relations with Russia during the campaign, saying he would like to partner with the Kremlin to ensure peace in Syria and to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He also criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to unseat Assad, arguing that it would open up an opportunity for terrorist groups to enter the region.
The Obama administration last month terminated cease-fire talks with Russia over Syria in response to a Moscow-backed bombing campaign in the city of Aleppo.
“I think everyone’s patience with Russia has run out,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at the time.
“They claim that they’re in Syria to fight extremists, but they haven’t achieved a significant counter-ISIL objective in more than seven months,” he continued, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “They have been reduced to claiming credit for U.S. operations.”
Trump caught flak during the campaign over his promise to work with Russia on Syria. Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, called him Putin’s “puppet.”
The report Wednesday also raises questions about the role Trump’s adult children will play after he enters the White House.
Trump’s transition team has said that none of his children will take formal positions but has not closed the door on them playing informal roles.
Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s elder daughter, has sat in on several meetings with world leaders since Nov. 8, including Donald Trump’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month in New York.
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