U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters in Baghdad during an unannounced visit that the U.S. and Russian Air Forces maintain a professional relationship in Syria, but the Pentagon is open to pursuing closer cooperation with Moscow with regard to air operations.
While answering the question of whether things are getting better or worse with Russia in the common airspace over Syria, Carter replied, “We do operate… very professionally… air operations… that has been an area in which the Russians have conducted themselves properly… [we have] a very professional relationship.”
The Defense Secretary also noted that the Pentagon is always open to pursuing closer cooperation with the Russian Air Force in Syria.
“You know, I have always held the door open to a wider type of cooperation, not so much here in Iraq, but in Syria. But we haven't been able to get that door really opened with the Russians yet,” Carter stated.
“The Russians came into Syria saying that they were going to fight ISIL and help to end the civil war by moving to a political transition that would end the [civil war]… They haven't done either of those things. They've instead behaved in a way that has fueled the civil war and now fueled a humanitarian crisis,” Carter added.
Nevertheless, over the last several months, the Pentagon has been vocal in its opposition towards the U.S. State Department’s pursuit of closer cooperation with Russia in an attempt to find a political solution to the war in Syria, saying in July that such attempts are only being carried out in order to “coerce Russians to make the right steps”
Carter reaffirmed this position on Saturday, saying, “Now, our secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, has been, with, you know, great energy and creativity, been trying to bring the Russians to do the right thing, in which case, we could associate ourselves with them. But we can't associate ourselves with actions that are headed in the wrong direction. We can't and we won't.”
Secretary Carter’s unannounced visit to Baghdad comes in the midst of the Iraqi Security Forces’ attempts to dislodge members of the so-called Islamic State from the city of Mosul.