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Trump and Putin Agree to Seek Syria Cease-Fire

President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia agreed on Tuesday to work together to broker a cease-fire in Syria, as they sought to move past weeks of tension after a chemical attack on Syrian civilians and a retaliatory American cruise missile strike.

In their first telephone conversation since the rupture in relations last month, Mr. Trump agreed to send a representative to Russian-sponsored cease-fire talks starting on Wednesday in Astana, Kazakhstan, and the two leaders assigned their top diplomats to coordinate efforts. They also discussed meeting in Germany in July.

But the White House and Kremlin offered differing accounts of how far the two presidents had gone in exploring the idea of establishing safe zones in Syria to protect civilians suffering under a relentless civil war, a concept Mr. Trump has advocated since last year’s campaign but has so far made no effort to follow through on. The White House statement said the talk had “included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.”

The Kremlin made no mention of safe zones in its own statement after the phone call, and Mr. Putin’s spokesman played down the idea. “The subject was mentioned but was not discussed in detail,” he told the state-run Tass news agency.

Still, both sides offered positive assessments of the conversation, with the White House characterizing it as “a very good one” and the Kremlin calling it “businesslike and constructive.” Neither side mentioned the dispute over the chemical attack and cruise missile strike.

“President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence,” the White House statement said.

While Mr. Trump came into office praising Mr. Putin and vowing to improve Russian-American relations, the two countries found themselves at odds last month after the chemical attack killed more than 80 civilians and American forces responded with a missile strike on the Syrian air base reportedly used to launch the nerve agent assault.

The Trump administration accused Russia of complicity or incompetence, since it had troops stationed at the same Syrian base. The Kremlin denied that the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was responsible for the chemical attack and accused the United States of violating international law.

In the wake of the rift, Mr. Trump said relations between the United States and Russia “may be at an all-time low.” But even as senior members of his team excoriated Moscow for its conduct, the president tempered his language, evidently still hoping to find a way to build a friendship between the former Cold War adversaries. Mr. Trump made sure not to criticize Mr. Putin personally and later expressed optimism that they would get past the dispute.

“Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on April 13. “At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!”

Mr. Trump’s effort to ease tensions coincided with a visit to Russia by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who met with Mr. Putin in the southern resort city of Sochi.

But the issues dividing Russia and the West remain unresolved, and the two sides appear no closer to agreement over the Syrian civil war, the Russian intervention in Ukraine or other disputes.

Further complicating the relationship are the continuing investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s American presidential election, which United States intelligence agencies say Mr. Putin ordered to help tilt the vote to Mr. Trump. European leaders have pointed to signs of Russian interference in their own elections lately.

At a news conference with Ms. Merkel on Tuesday, Mr. Putin dismissed allegations that Russia was seeking to influence the political landscape in the West by supporting far-right parties and undercutting mainstream factions. “We never interfere in the political life and the political processes of other countries, and we don’t want anybody interfering in our political life and foreign policy processes,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin has stuck by Mr. Assad even as much of the rest of the world has called for him to step down after six years of a grinding civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead. Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack.

Asked about Syria at the news conference with the German chancellor, Mr. Putin said the two sides had discussed settling the conflict there. He emphasized that cooperation with Washington was critical.

“Certainly, without the participation of such a party as the United States, it is also impossible to solve these problems effectively,” Mr. Putin said. “So we are and will continue to be in contact with our American partners, and I hope that we will attain understanding there regarding joint steps in this very important and sensitive area of international relations today.”

When he was asked whether he had the influence to sway Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin said that Russia, in tandem with Turkey and Iran, was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation from all sides.”

A cease-fire is the main priority, Mr. Putin said. It will be the focus of talks involving various parties to the conflict that are to take place on Wednesday and Thursday in Astana. Until now, the United States had not had any important role in those talks, which Russia, Iran and Turkey set up outside the previous system of negotiations in Geneva.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had previously spoken by telephone twice since the American inauguration in January, the first time about a week after the president was sworn in and the second in early April, when Mr. Trump called to express condolences over a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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