WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that Moscow had proposed talks between the United States and Russian militaries on the situation in Syria and the buildup of Russian forces there.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, made the proposal, which Mr. Kerry indicated the administration was considering, in a phone conversation with him on Tuesday.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Lavrov proposed a “military-to-military” meeting to minimize the risk of confrontation in an arena in which Russian and American forces may both operate, and perhaps agree on a path forward.
“You have a conversation in order to do that,” Mr. Kerry added. “It is vital to avoid misunderstandings.”
While the United States continues to raise concerns about the Russian military buildup at an airfield south of Latakia, Mr. Kerry’s comments suggest the Obama administration is not confident it can persuade the Russians to halt the deployment — or impede it by persuading Syria’s neighbors to close their airspace to Russian military transport flights. The administration is focusing instead on reducing the risk of an inadvertent confrontation with the American-led coalition that is bombing the Islamic State in Syria.
The Tuesday phone conversation was third time this month that Mr. Kerry has spoken to Mr. Lavrov on Syria.
On Sept. 5, the United States asked a number of nations to close their airspace to Russian military transport flights.
But Iraq took no action in response to the American concerns. Russia has now deployed a small number of tanks, as well as artillery and armored personnel carriers at an airfield south of Lakatia. Moscow is also erecting housing that can accommodate 1,500 people. American officials are concerned that Russia will eventually base attack planes there.
Russia and the United States appear to remain far apart on what diplomatic action should be taken to stop the civil war in Syria. And Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that they do not agree on the root cause for the rise of the Islamic State.
“We need to get past this fundamental disagreement about what the cause of terrorism is and how to combat it,” she told reporters.
American officials that the brutality of the Assad government has fueled the rise of the Islamic State, but Russians officials see the Syrian government as a “bulwark against extremism.”
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(via NY Times)