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Russia urges caution over Trump's Syria plans

The Kremlin said Thursday that any U.S. plans for safe zones should be thoroughly considered, after President Trump revived the long-debated concept of secured areas for civilians inside war-torn Syria.

Asked to comment on a draft executive order that Mr. Trump is expected to sign this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stressed that it was important in Moscow’s view to “thoroughly calculate all possible consequences” of the measure. He noted that would be “important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees.”

While suspending new U.S. visas for Syrians and others from a handful of predominantly Muslim nations, the order would direct the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area within 90 days.

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“I’ll absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people,” Mr. Trump said in the interview with ABC News aired Wednesday.

Safe zones, proposed by both Mr. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton during the campaign, were considered by the Obama administration years ago and ruled out, in part because of concerns it could put American aircraft in harm’s way with Russia waging a relentless air campaign in Syria, and because it was believed that securing such zones would require a large deployment of U.S. troops to the country.

About one year ago, Russia dismissed the concept of no-fly zones in Syria, which were considered -- at least then -- necessary if safe zones were to be created on the ground.  The Kremlin said such areas could only be established with the consent of Syrian President Bashar Assad and United Nations backing.

A senior European Union official said Thursday that it was too early to comment on the Trump Administration’s intentions regarding safe zones in Syria.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the European Union would “consider plans when they come.”

Speaking at a press conference in the Lebanese capital, Mogherini said the EU wants to see a political solution and a political transition in Syria that would allow “every single Syrian” to return to their country.

European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have expressed support in the past for the concept of safe zones in Syria.

A Turkish official, meanwhile, said Thursday that his country has always supported the idea of safe zones, but would need to review any U.S. plans before commenting.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu told reporters that Turkey has “seen the reports on a request for a study on the safe zone,” adding that “what is important is to see the result of these studies.”

Turkey has been a staunch backer of the rebel forces fighting to topple Assad, and a firm ally to Washington. A recent thaw in Ankara’s relations with Moscow -- coinciding with increasing Turkish tension with Washington -- has helped pave the way for the ongoing dialogue aimed at finding a political solution to the six-year war. 

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