WASHINGTON (AP) — As peace talks opened in Geneva, President Barack Obama on Monday spoke with President Vladimir Putin about the Russian leader's decision to begin withdrawing forces from war-ravaged Syria, and discussed "next steps" in upholding the fragile truce that has quieted the country's civil war, the White House said.
In a statement about the phone call, the White House said Obama told Putin he welcomed the "much-needed reduction in violence" since the cease-fire took effect late last month. But the president also noted the Syrian regime's continued "offensive actions" threaten to break the deal and could undermine plans for a United Nations-led political process.
"The President underscored that a political transition is required to end the violence in Syria," the White House said.
The two leaders spoke shortly after Putin announced the partial withdrawal. For nearly six months, Russia has mounted an air campaign backing up the Syria President Bashar Assad's battle against opposition forces. The White House statement did not offer the president's reaction to Putin's move and instead focused on what else Russians could do to use its influence with the Assad regime.
The White House said Obama noted "some progress" on getting humanitarian aid to Syrians, but added that regime forces continue to impede access to some areas, particularly Daraya.
In announcing the withdrawal, Putin credited the campaign with helping Assad retake territory, turn the tide in the war and create the conditions for peace talks between Assad and opposition groups.
A Kremlin statement on the leaders' call said the move "will undoubtedly serve as a good signal for all conflicting parties and create conditions for the launch of a real peace process."
It added that "the presidents spoke in favor of stepping up the process of political settlement of the Syrian conflict and voiced support for the talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva, in which the Syrians themselves must determine the future structure of their state."
The statement said the conversation was "business-like and frank."
Obama also urged Russian-backed forces to adhere to another ceasefire deal — the one in eastern Ukraine. Obama urged Putin to allow international monitors access to separatist-controlled regions along the Russia-Ukraine border, the White House said.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.