MILITARY TALKS BEGIN: Between US and Russia on Syria

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.56.14 AMIs it possible to trust Russia at this point?

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the United States was prepared to engage in military-to-military talks with Russia concerning Syria.

“The president believes that a mil-to-mil conversation is an important next step,” Mr. Kerry said, “and I think, hopefully, will take place very shortly.”

Shortly after Mr. Kerry spoke, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter had spoken by telephone with Sergei K. Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense. It was Mr. Carter’s first discussion with his Russian counterpart since he became defense secretary seven months ago. The two men agreed to continue discussions on “mechanisms for deconfliction” in Syria, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The Pentagon described it as “a constructive conversation.” The Pentagon press secretary, Peter Cook, said the two men had “talked about areas where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap, and areas of divergence.”

The initial purpose of the talks with Russia, Mr. Kerry said in London, will be to help “define some of the different options that are available to us as we consider next steps in Syria.”

In Moscow, the foreign ministry said it had always welcomed discussions with Washington about Syria. “We have never refused dialogue with the U.S., and we remain open to one now on all issues of mutual interest, including Syria,” Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, told the state-run RIA Novosti agency.

Mr. Kerry said that the Obama administration would not change its basic goals in Syria: The defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and a political solution for the conflict there.

But though the administration has long said that President Bashar al-Assad must go for there to be a durable solution to the Syria crisis, Mr. Kerry seemed on Friday to allow for the possibility that Mr. Assad might remain in power in the short term. Mr. Assad has had Russia’s backing throughout the conflict.

“Our focus remains on destroying ISIL and also on a political settlement with respect to Syria, which we believe cannot be achieved with the long-term presence of Assad,” Mr. Kerry said. “But we’re looking for ways in which to try to find a common ground. Clearly, if you’re going to have a political settlement, which we’ve always argued is the best and only way to resolve Syria, you need to have conversations with people, and you need to find a common ground.”

Read more: NY Times

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