U.S. expects agreement with Russia soon on Syria air safety


  • World
  • Wednesday, 14 Oct 2015

BOSTON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects an agreement with Russia's military soon on air safety protocols in the skies above Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday, as the former Cold War foes seek to avoid a clash during rival bombing campaigns.

Russia's entry into Syria's civil war has stoked concerns about an accidental mishap between U.S. and Russia jets. The Pentagon has already cited cases in which Russia aircraft came within miles of piloted U.S. fighters jets and drones.

The United States has said it will not alter its air operations against Islamic State in Syria or cooperate with Moscow, given Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But the Pentagon has agreed to work with Moscow on basic air safety procedures and said it would keep a channel of communications open.

"Our talks there are very professional, they're very constructive, and I expect them to lead in very short order to an agreement," Carter told a news briefing in Boston.

U.S. proposals, first outlined during a secure video conference between the U.S. and Russian militaries on Oct. 1, include maintaining a safe distance between U.S. and Russian aircraft and using common radio frequencies for distress calls.

Carter said a third round of talks between the U.S. and Russian militaries would be held on Wednesday. Russia's Interfax news agency, citing Russian military officials, said the talks would be held via video conference.

"Even as we continue to disagree on Syria policy, we should be able to at least agree on making sure our airmen are as safe as possible," Carter said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. military said two U.S. and two Russian aircraft "entered the same battle space" over Syria on Saturday, getting within miles of each other.

Saturday was also the last round of talks between the U.S. and Russian militaries.

U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said the Russians have repeatedly broken air patrols and come close to American unmanned aerial vehicles or drone aircraft.

"We've seen instances where ... one of our UAVs will sort of come nearby and the Russian will break his pattern and come over and take a close look at the drone, or the UAV," Warren told a Pentagon news briefing, speaking via video-conference.

Warren said Russia has carried out about 80 strikes so far - a far lower count than Moscow has offered, possibly due to different methodologies for calculating strikes.

"I find these air strikes to be reckless and indiscriminate," Warren said, renewing the U.S. accusation that only a fraction of Russia's strikes target Islamic State or Islamic State-held territory.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Boston, Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech and Tom Brown)

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