US and Russian officials have quietly stepped up contacts in recent weeks to try to advance a deal on the creation of a safe zone in southern Syria, Al-Monitor has learned.
The talks included a meeting in Jordan in late May, a former diplomat from the region said on condition of anonymity. Russia, Iran and Turkey negotiated the creation of four zones aimed at de-escalating tensions between Bashar al-Assad's forces and the armed Syrian opposition in early May, and the Donald Trump administration is now trying to see what role the United States can play.
“Last week, the Americans and Russia met in Jordan with the Jordanians to discuss these zones in the south,” the former diplomat said. “The meeting in Jordan was one part where the US and Russia, Israel and Jordan can work together to have [a] de-escalation zone in the south of Syria.”
The United States is particularly concerned that any deal over the future of Syria preserves the stability of its close allies Israel and Jordan. Israel for its part has said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border with Syria.
The source said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is "in charge of dealing with Russia" amid allegations that the Trump presidential campaign conspired with Moscow. The former diplomat said Brett McGurk, the US special presidential envoy to the global coalition against the Islamic State, and US Syria envoy Michael Ratney participated in the Jordan talks. Neither official responded to queries.