Donald Trump Jr. attended an October roundtable conference on ending the Syrian civil war that was hosted by a French think tank favouring closer cooperation with Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reported on Wednesday.
The conference, held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Paris, centered on urging the US and Russia to “reach an accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis.” The countries’ cooperation is more likely under President-elect Donald Trump, the think tank’s co-founder, Syrian-born Randa Kassis, wrote on Facebook earlier this month.
Kassis apparently told the state-sponsored Russian news agency Sputnik earlier this month that “Trump’s team had realised that it was impossible to reach an agreement between Moscow and Washington” if the US continued to consider Russia an enemy.
Trump Jr.’s presence at the meeting was not reported by Sputnik, but Kassis said in a Facebook post that she “succeeded to pass Trump, through the talks with his son, the idea of how we can cooperate together to reach the agreement between Russia and the United States on Syria.”
Trump Jr.’s attendance at a roundtable meeting with pro-Russian, Syrian-opposition elements was confirmed by one of Trump’s senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway.
“Don was addressing a roundtable in Paris, and she [Kassis] was present for that talk and at a group dinner for 30 people,” Conway told the Journal. “This event featured a number of opinion leaders from all over the world who were interested in the US elections.”
The elder Trump has often argued that the US should work more closely with Russia and its ally, Assad, to defeat ISIS in Syria.
“I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS,” the president-elect said during the second presidential debate in October.
And in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, the he indicated that he could pull back US support to Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, saying “we have no idea” who the rebels really are.
Assad, for his part, said in an interview last week that he considers Trump to be “a natural ally” in the fight against terrorism.
Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies do not distinguish between non-Islamist rebel groups and jihadist organisations such as the Islamic State and former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, however.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in the past week alone from Russian airstrikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, in a renewed offensive after a three-week halt to the air campaign.
They are the kind of attacks that led US Secretary of State John Kerry to suspend negotiations with Russia over Syria’s future last month, weeks after Russia launched a scorched-earth offensive on Aleppo that targeted hospitals, schools, and rescue workers. Both France and the US have called for a war-crimes investigation into Putin and Assad’s actions in Syria.
Russia has picked out members of the opposition that it would be willing to work with, but these only include rebel figures willing to accept a role for Assad in a political transition — a condition deemed unacceptable by many, if not most, of Syria’s opposition fighters.