US Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke over telephone on Friday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoygu about the situation in Syria and insisted that no military reinforcements be provided to the Damascus regime.
“The secretary (of defense) emphasised the importance of pursuing such consultations in parallel with diplomatic talks that would ensure a political transition in Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
Carter told his Russian colleague that “defeating ISIL and ensuring a political transition are objectives that need to be pursued at the same time”.
The Pentagon has confirmed that Russia is trying to establish an air base in the western Syrian city of Latakia to begin bringing in personnel and heavy artillery to provide the military support so vital for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, which already has a naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean, will have a military presence in the Middle East unprecedented since the 1970s.
Carter, who was speaking with Shoygu for the first time since the deployment became known, said through his spokesman that the conversation was “constructive” and that they “talked about areas where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap and areas of divergence”.
“They agreed to further discuss mechanisms for deconfliction in Syria and the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) campaign,” Cook said.
Up to now, Secretary of State John Kerry has led talks with Moscow to express Washington’s concern about Russia’s mobilizations and to line up both governments with a unified Syrian strategy.
The US has tried to apply diplomatic pressure for a negotiated departure of Assad since the civil war began in 2011, but the elements of the opposition acceptable to the West have been weakened by the advance of jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) and the al-Nusra Front, which are also fighting against Damascus.
The government of President Barack Obama has spent more than a year leading an international coalition that has bombed IS positions in Syria and Iraq, while at the same time training so-caled moderate rebels to eventually represent an alternative to Assad.
The plan to train opposition forces seems to be going nowhere, and this week the head of the US Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin, admitted that the number of American-trained rebels who are actively fighting against IS in Syria number no more than “four or five”.