Syria brings new urgency to easing U.s.-russia tensions
The U.S. shoots down a Syrian fighter jet for the first time. Syria attacks America’s allies against Islamic State militants. Iran fires missiles into Syria. Russia threatens to target U.S. coalition planes.
As Syria’s complex war ramps up, the Trump administration is scrambling to tamp down tensions and avoid open hostilities with the Russians.
This weekend’s fast-paced developments bring new urgency to easing escalating strains between Washington and Moscow, who are both fighting in Syria but with opposing objectives. It’s an effort made more complicated by the increasingly messy battlefield in the Arab country, which includes deepening Iranian involvement — its first missile foray into Syria occurred Sunday — and an ongoing probe in the United States into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
In the first high-level U.S. public comments about the situation, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the former Cold War foes are in delicate discussions to restore normalcy to communications and maintain focus on fighting IS instead of each other.
“The worst thing any of us could do right now is address this with hyperbole,” Dunford said at the National Press Club.
Throughout Syria’s six-anda-half year civil war, the United States has supported rebels opposed to President Bashar Assad’s government and extremist groups like IS, while Russia has backed Assad. And that disagreement has constrained American leaders, who’ve made clear that any U.S. military activity in Syria avoid provoking an open confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, the world’s two greatest nuclear powers.
At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said: “It’s important and crucial that we keep lines of communication open to deconflict potential issues.” The U.S. and Russia use the term “deconfliction” for discussions to prevent mishaps between their planes flying in Syria’s skies.
But in a warning that the U.S. would protect its partners, Spicer said: “The Syrian regime and others in the region need to understand that we will retain the right of self-defence of coalition forces aligned against ISIS.”
Tensions rose Sunday as the U.S. shot down a Syrian Air Force SU-22 fighter that U.S. officials said had bombed Americanbacked Syrian fighters involved in an emerging battle to recapture the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The U.s.-led coalition said it acted in “collective self-defence” of partnered forces. Russia called it a “cynical” violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty.
In this picture released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Monday, a missile is fired from city of Kermanshah in western Iran targeting the Islamic State group in Syria.