Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Wednesday that Russia has proposed military talks with the United States on Syria, and the United States is considering next steps.
The talks come amid reports that Russia had sent a military advance team to its ally Syria and was taking other steps that Washington fears may signal plans to vastly expand military support for Syria’s beleaguered president Bashar Al-Assad.
Kerry has held several phone calls with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to allay Washington’s concerns over Moscow’s military build-up in Syria. The last such phone call came Tuesday night, when Kerry warned Lavrov that continued support for Assad will only prolong the Syrian conflict.
On Wednesday, according to the Reuters news agency, Kerry said he was talking to the White House and Pentagon about Russia’s proposal following his three phone calls with Lavrov in recent days.
The Secretary of State was not specific about what the talks would involve, although he suggested they would be about ensuring that U.S. and Russian aircraft do not come into conflict with each other in Syria.
The United States is leading a coalition of countries fighting Islamic State in Syria, and Russia has claimed its recent military build-up in Syria was focused on countering the same threat.
"The Russians proposed … that we have military-to-military conversation …to discuss what precisely what will be done to deconflict with respect to any potential risks that might be run and to have a complete and clear understanding as to the road ahead and what the intentions are," Kerry was quoted as having told reporters after meeting his South African counterpart.
Kerry said the Obama administration was considering the proposal to fully understand Russia's intentions, which would help avoid "miscalculations."
"The White House, the Defense Department and State Department are discussing next steps in order to determine the best way forward, in order to have clarity about this road ahead," he added, according to Reuters.
Despite increased international pressure in recent days to explain its increased military presence in Syria, Russia has been unfazed and has claimed that the aid it provides to Damascus is normal.
Lavrov reiterated earlier this week that Russia will support the Syrian government in the fight against ISIS, saying that excluding the Syrian army from the fight against ISIS is “absurd”.