Russia’s Policy in Syria, Afghanistan Clashing with US

MOSCOW � Multi-nation talks on the prospects for Afghan security and national reconciliation, the third such round since December, began Friday in Moscow.

Eleven countries are taking part in discussions, including Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan and India. Former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited to attend for the first time.

The United States was also invited to the Moscow talks but Washington didn't attend, saying it was not informed of the agenda beforehand and was unclear of the meeting's motives.

Just days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's frosty reception by the Kremlin, which refused to stop support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the two countries are also at odds on how to fight the Islamic State group in Afghanistan.

Russia's increasingly assertive foreign policy in Syria and Afghanistan is clashing with U.S. goals, but analysts say both countries are needed for a negotiated peace.

"I think it's clear to, even to [the] Trump administration, that without cooperation and collaboration of Russia, it's impossible to move forward or to achieve any meaningful result � be it on Syria or be it in Afghanistan," Victor Mizin, of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, told VOA.

But others have stressed that this collaboration is possible even if the U.S. and Russia remain firm on some of their respective positions.

"There is certainly always room for cooperation both in Syria and Afghanistan," Dmitry Verkhoturov, of the Center on Modern Afghanistan Research, told VOA. "But from my viewpoint, the key factor of this cooperation is that both sides, Russia and the U.S., should mutually recognize the right for an independent opinion, independent position, and an independent policy."

Charles Kupchan, former senior director for European Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council in the Obama administration, says the Trump White House is still finding it's footing in regard to Russian relations.

"I don't think that there is a single point of view in the White House � in fact, one senses they are still finding their way through the woods. And whether it is on Russia or Syria or Arab-Israeli issues, different days bring different policy statements," he told VOA's Russian Service. "On the Russia account, I do think there has been a sobering up, in the sense that as a candidate and as an early president, I think [President Donald] Trump had a somewhat naive view about how easy it would be to reset the relationship with Russia. That he felt he could go in there as a businessman and sit down shoulder-to-shoulder with President [Vladimir] Putin and resolve everything."

Having spent three years as a special assistant to the former U.S. president, Kupchan said stabilizing Russian ties is a notoriously difficult undertaking.

"Having worked with Russians on Ukraine and other issues, it's tough going, and I think what the Trump administration is finding is simply that: It's tough to find common ground with the Kremlin, and that the road ahead is likely to be one of differences of opinion rather than a reset that leads to a lasting rapprochement."

Thursday, the U.S. dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on a reported Islamic State militant complex in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

Source: Voice of America