Russia, US plan another talk to avoid air conflicts in Syria

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2015 11:48 AM
Russia, US plan another talk to avoid air conflicts in Syria

NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy (AP) — Russia has informed the United States that Moscow is willing to continue talks to ensure that the two countries' aircraft don't interfere with each other over Syria, senior U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

But a Russian defense official said the talks should be much broader than what the Pentagon is seeking.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said a response to the Pentagon's request for talks came through the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and reached U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter while he was flying from Moron Air Base in Spain to Sigonella, Italy.

"We look forward to the formal response from the Russians and learning the details," Cooke said. "We stand ready to meet again to continue our earlier discussion as soon as possible."

Earlier Tuesday, Carter had called on Russian leaders to contact the Pentagon immediately to discuss Moscow's military activities in Syria, reflecting urgent concerns about Russian aircraft violating Turkish airspace. NATO on Monday denounced Russia for "irresponsible behavior" for allowing its warplanes to cross into Turkey.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said the Russians want broad discussions on international cooperation between Russia and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.

"Regrettably, the Americans would like to limit our cooperation to technical issues relating to interaction between our pilots while on relevant missions," Antonov said Tuesday.

"The Americans have handed us a document, on which we are working," he said.

U.S. and Russian officials met once by video conference late last week, before the incursion into the airspace of Turkey, which borders Syria. Carter said the U.S. has been waiting for a second meeting on how to avoid any accidents or miscalculations in the increasingly crowded skies over Syria.

Turkey, a NATO member, mentioned only one Russian intrusion over the weekend, but the military alliance said a second Russian jet also violated Turkish airspace Sunday. The airspace violations triggered immediate outrage from the alliance. Russia insisted the first incursion was a mistake and says it had nothing to do with the second one.

Carter and other NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss how to deal with the problem when they meet in Brussels later this week.

The U.S.-led coalition has been routinely conducting airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria.

Russia says the airstrikes it began last week are directed against the Islamic State group, as well as al-Qaida's Syrian affiliates. But the U.S. and France say at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed rebel factions fighting government troops, with the real goal of protecting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

U.S. officials have been critical of Russia's entrance into the Syrian conflict and Carter said the latest issues will cause the U.S. to further strengthen its posture against Moscow.

During the videoconference with the Russians on Thursday, Elissa Slotkin, who represented the U.S. side, raised concerns about the Russian airstrikes targeting areas where there are few if any Islamic State militants operating. Slotkin is the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

The meeting was aimed at making sure there are no conflicts, collisions or other problems as the U.S.-led coalition and the Russians fly over Syria. A key concern is the prospect of the U.S. and Russia getting drawn into a shooting war in the event that Russian warplanes hit moderate Syrian rebels who have been trained and equipped by the U.S. and received promises of U.S. air support if they are attacked.

The U.S. side proposed using specific international radio frequencies for distress calls by military pilots flying in Syrian airspace.

Carter is on a weeklong trip to Europe, including stops in Spain, Italy, London and the NATO meeting in Brussels. He is focused on reassuring European allies of U.S. support as they face growing security threats from a more aggressive Russia and militant extremists from north Africa.


Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.