‘Devil’s in the details’: US to closely examine Russia-proposed safe zones in Syria
“We'll look at the proposal, see if it can work,” Mattis as he arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark on Sunday for talks with other members the US-led anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coalition.
The US owes it to the “to the situation there [in Syria], the people there to at least examine it very, very carefully,” he added.
The safe or de-escalation zones in Syria, which were agreed upon by Russia, Turkey and Iran, came into force on Friday, with the US not a part of the deal.
The areas where no fighting and airstrikes are allowed for Syrian government forces and the armed opposition will function for the next six months, with a possibility of a half-year extension.
The initiative, which was rejected by the rebel groups who cited Iran’s involvement, also promotes the creation of conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance and the return of refugees to their homes.
Mattis became the first high-ranking American official to make extensive comments on the safe zones, which are aimed at resolving the bloody conflict, raging in Syria since 2011.
“All wars eventually come to an end. And we've been looking, for a long time, how to bring this one to an end,” the defense secretary said, as cited by AP.
He said that the general locations of the four zones – in Syria’s Idlib province, north Homs province, the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and parts of southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra – were “well understood,” despite their borders still being worked out.
However, Mattis stressed that the US side has a lot of questions regarding the de-escalation zones.
“Who is going to be ensuring they're safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we're engaged,” he said.
“The devil is always in the details, right? So we have to look at the details, see if we can work them out, see if we think they're going to be effective,” the defense secretary added.
He also wondered if the safe zones will affect the US-led coalition's fight against IS, saying that he thinks “the international community is united in the sense of wanting to see ISIS put on its back foot.''
Russia earlier stressed that the implementation of safe zones would in no way hamper the efforts to crush IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups in Syria.
Mattis said that Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford discussed the initiative with his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov, on Saturday.
“This subject was brought up, but there’s a lot of details to be worked out,” he said.
The US State Department earlier commented on the initiative and expressed concerns about Iran’s participation, blaming Tehran for only contributing to instability in Syria in the past.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who talked to US President Donald Trump on the phone last week, said that he understood from the conversation that the Trump administration supported the idea of Syrian safe zones.