U.S., Russian Officials Hold Talks on Maintaining Safe Air Ops Over Syria/Jim Garamone

RUSSIANS and HillaryU.S. and Russian defense officials spoke via video teleconference this morning to discuss ways to maintain safe air operations over Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said.

At a Pentagon news conference, Cook said U.S. officials stressed to their Russian counterparts that Russia should be concentrating on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The announcement came as news reports indicate Russian planes struck targets in Syria for the second straight day. Coalition aircraft also were active, hitting ISIL targets in Syria. U.S. officials noted that the areas Russia has hit so far are not ISIL strongholds.

Crowded Airspace

The airspace over Syria is getting crowded with fighter-bombers, tankers and other support aircraft, so the meeting is to ensure there are no mix-ups or miscalculations, Cook said. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to the meetings in New York as part of the U.N. General Assembly session.

“The video teleconference lasted a little over an hour and was cordial and professional,” Cook said. “We made crystal clear that at a minimum, the priority here is the safe operation of the aircrews over Syria. That was the focal point of the discussion today and, I imagine, will be going forward.”

American officials presented an initial plan “to enhance safety, prevent miscalculation and avoid actions, activities or operations that could escalate tensions,” he said. Russian officials outlined their own ideas, and both sides will take the results to their respective ministries for further study, he added.

Emphasis on Aircrew Safety

The press secretary emphasized that the meeting stresses the safety of aircrews in the region. “Some of the steps outlined by the United States include [that] aircrews should follow international rules for safety of flight, ensure navigation through professional airmanship — including use of appropriate and active communications — and avoiding actions that could cause unnecessary confrontations,” Cook said.

Cook would not characterize the Russian response, but he did note that the sides agreed to meet again. The coalition has launched 7,184 airstrikes since its anti-ISIL campaign began last year, with 4,604 in Iraq and 2,580 in Syria.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

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