WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Friday telephoned his Russian counterpart, for the first time in a year, over escalating tensions in Syria that have further strained relations between Washington and Moscow.
Carter spoke to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for about an hour Friday, addressing Russia’s ongoing military assistance of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. For weeks, Moscow has been lending support to Assad — straining already deteriorated relations between the United States and Russia.
The phone call happened as the first Russian fighter jets arrived at a military base on the Syrian coast — where Moscow has already shuttled in artillery and other military equipment.
“The secretary and the minister talked about areas where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap and areas of divergence,” the Pentagon said in a statement Friday. “They agreed to further discuss mechanisms for deconfliction in Syria and the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) campaign.”
U.S. officials continue to be concerned about Russia’s movements in Syria, where the Islamic State continues its campaign of terror.
American officials have said Assad’s regime is an obstacle to peace in the Mediterranean nation, but the leader is a key ally of Moscow’s.
“Our focus remains on destroying ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday. “And also on a political settlement with respect to Syria, which we believe cannot be achieved with the long-term presence of Assad. We are looking for ways in which to try and find a common ground.”
Washington warned the Kremlin two weeks ago about the potential consequences of its military intervention in Syria — where a civil war and other hostilities could spin further out of control.
Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov on Sept. 5 that continued assistance for Assad could possibly lead to a military confrontation with U.S.-led coalition fighters who are battling terrorists in the region.