Syria brings new ur­gency to eas­ing U.s.-rus­sia ten­sions

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - WORLD -

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.

AP PHOTO

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.

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