Russia has invited the incoming Trump administration to Syrian peace talks it is sponsoring later this month with Turkey and Iran, part of a process from which the Obama administration pointedly has been excluded.
U.S. participation, especially if an agreement is reached, would be the first indication of the enhanced U.S.-Russia cooperation that President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump have forecast under a Trump administration.
The invitation, extended to Trump’s designated national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, came in a Dec. 28 phone call to Flynn by Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador in Washington, according to a transition official.
The official said that “no decision was made” during the call and that “I don’t have anything additional on U.S. attendance at this time.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity based on ground rules set by the transition team.
A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the United States would attend the talks, according to Turkish media. To be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, the talks are tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 23, three days after Trump’s inauguration. Syrian government and opposition representatives are also expected to attend.
Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 3. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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The Astana meeting will follow an unsuccessful year-long attempt, spearheaded by the Obama administration and Russia, to implement a cease-fire and begin peace talks in Syria. Moscow and Washington have accused each other of sabotaging that effort. Russia initiated the new process, aiming to demonstrate its own leadership role on the regional and global stages.
Meanwhile, the timing of the Flynn-Kislyak call has prompted questions about whether they also discussed sanctions on Russia that President Obama was widely reported to be preparing — and announced the next day — and whether Trump, as president, will enforce them or even allow them to stand.
The transition official said Friday that he did not know whether Flynn was aware at the time of the call that sanctions were about to be announced. But “I can tell you that during his call, sanctions were not discussed whatsoever,” the official said.
Trump conceded at a news conference this week that “I think it was Russia” that was responsible for hacking Democratic email accounts during the presidential campaign. He had previously questioned a U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian responsibility. But he continues to reject the intelligence conclusion that Russia leaked the hacked information to promote his candidacy over that of Hillary Clinton.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will “expeditiously” conduct an investigation of the intelligence conclusions, the chairman and ranking Democrat announced Friday.
Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said in a statement that the scope of the inquiry would include, but would not be limited to, Russian activities and intentions, as well as “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.” It said the committee would, when possible, hold open hearings; issue subpoenas for testimony, if necessary; and produce classified and unclassified reports of its findings.