The Pentagon has said that top US and Russian defence officials have held their first talks in more than a year to discuss the Syria crisis
Russia’s Minster of Defense Sergey Shoigu and his US counterpart Ashton Carter talked by phone on Friday to discuss the situation in the Middle East and the Syrian crisis.
They have also agreed to restore military contacts between reports Russia Today: “The ministers noted the restoration of military-to-military contacts and agreed to continue consultations,” spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said.
This was the first contact between the ministries since last August when relations between Russia and the US remain soured by the conflict in Ukraine.
The BBC reports:
Russia said the talks proved the sides had common ground, state media said.
The US and Russia have disagreed sharply on Syria’s bloody civil war.
While Moscow has backed the Syrian government, the US sees the removal of President Bashar al-Assad as essential to resolving the conflict.
The US has also been alarmed about reports of a Russian military build-up in Syria, at a time when the Assad government has been losing ground to rebels.
News of the phone call between Mr Carter and Mr Shoigu emerged shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry said the US hoped military-to-military conversations would take place “very shortly”.
The growing Russian military presence in Syria, not least the deployment of surface-to-air missiles to defend the airfield at Latakia, means that Washington and Moscow have a lot to talk about.
The phone call between the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu is only the first step.
The US and a number of its allies are flying strike missions into Syrian air space and they do not want to have any misunderstandings with Russia’s forces there.
The Americans also want to get a clearer idea as to the purpose of the Russian presence in Syria.
Is this simply to secure a bridge-head to re-supply Mr Assad? Or does it herald a Russian intervention in the fighting?
Military talks between Moscow and Washington could also facilitate a better understanding on the diplomatic front with Syria likely to be a prominent issue in the crucial contacts on the margins of the UN General Assembly later this month.
The defence chiefs discussed “deconfliction” – essentially avoiding accidental encounters – the Pentagon statement said, describing the talks as “constructive”.
In the 50-minute conversation, Mr Shoigu told Mr Carter that Russian activities in Syria were “defensive in nature,” a US official told Reuters.
The two sides also agreed to further talks, reopening formal contact after relations were badly strained by Russian action last year in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Moscow has said that any request from Syria to send troops would be “discussed and considered”.