US and Russia Close to Deal on Syria

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syria President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.  Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since the war broke out in Syria in 2011 to meet his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Syrian and Russian media reported Wednesday. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti,  Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syria President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since the war broke out in Syria in 2011 to meet his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Syrian and Russian media reported Wednesday. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The United States and Russia are nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, officials said Thursday. If clinched, the deal was expected to be announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam on Friday, four U.S. officials said.

The United States has been reluctant to schedule a formal meeting for the leaders unless they have a substantive agreement to announce. But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that they won’t hold a formal meeting due to scheduling conflicts on “both sides.” Still, Sanders said it was possible Trump and Putin could have a less formal encounter while in Vietnam.

The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria. Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country’s future.