Some 30 people, including Donald Trump Jr., reportedly joined an event attended by diplomats, businessmen, and politicians, which was hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, a French think tank that focuses on “geopolitics, government policies and private industries interests.”
According to the WSJ, the founder of the think tank, Fabien Baussart, and his wife, Randa Kassis, have “worked closely with Russia to try to end the conflict in Syria.”
Damascus-born Ms. Kassis is said to be a leading secular figure in the Syrian opposition and the founder of the Movement of the Pluralistic Society. She told the newspaper that she had emphasized the importance of cooperating with Russia in the Middle East during the meeting in Paris.
“We have to be realistic. Who’s on the ground in Syria? Not the US, not France,” she told the WSJ, speaking from Moscow. “Without Russia, we can’t have any solution in Syria.”
Ms. Kassis told the newspaper that, she made sure to stress to Trump Jr. the importance of promoting a secular government in Damascus during the Paris meeting, while pointing out that Syria’s armed opposition, including those backed by Washington, are radical Islamists.
“[Syria’s] opposition got hope that [the] political process will move forward and Russia and the United States will reach accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis, because of Trump’s victory,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“Such hope and belief is the result of my personal meeting with Donald Trump junior in Paris in October,” Ms. Kassis added.
In an e-mail to WSJ, a senior adviser to the president-elect, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed that the younger Trump had been at the Paris event, but downplayed his direct contact with Ms. Kassis, saying “Don was addressing a roundtable in Paris, and she was present for that talk and at a group dinner for 30 people.”
Last month Washington “suspended” bilateral contacts with Moscow in dealing with the Syrian crisis over allegations that Russia and Syrian planes hit on aid convoy. Moscow has denied the accusations.
Meanwhile, Russia blames the US for failing to honor its obligations under an agreement with Moscow to separate the so-called “moderate” opposition from Al-Nusra militants. “This is the main thing that the US promised to do, and the US frankly did not do it,” Max Abrahms, counterterrorism expert at Northwestern University, told RT in October.
The elder Mr. Trump has repeatedly blasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Syria, saying the US should be focused on fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) instead of pursuing regime change.
“My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are,” he told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
The US President-elect and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first telephone call earlier this month, when the two leaders discussed Syria and agreed to improve and develop bilateral ties, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Citing exclusive military and intelligence sources, Debkafile reported on Wednesday that the president-elect “has already plunged unannounced into managing America’s military role in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.”
According to the publication, Trump’s national security adviser Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is “secretly in close touch with the head of the Russian Security Council, Nikolay Patrushev, as well as President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Their covert discussions are preparing the ground for a combined assault on the Islamic State’s bastions in Iraq and Syria shortly after Trump moves into the White House. Their plan of operation would also involve the regular armies of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Persian Gulf nations.”
Deputy head of Russia’s foreign ministry, Mikhail Bogdanov, said last week that Moscow has initiated contact with Trump’s team to discuss Syria, Interfax news agency reported.
“We hope that the outgoing and the incoming administration will proceed from the fact that it is impossible to solve the Syrian issue without Russia,” the senior Russian diplomat said.