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Syria crisis: US and Russian defence chiefs discuss conflict

Sgiant4u - Top US and Russian defence officials have held their first talks in more than a year to discuss the Syrian war, the Pentagon says.

Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter discussed with Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu how their two sides can avoid accidentally clashing on the ground, a statement said.

Russia said the talks proved the sides had common ground, state media said.

The US and Russia have disagreed sharply on Syria's bloody civil war.

While Moscow has backed the Syrian government, the US sees the removal of President Bashar al-Assad as essential to resolving the conflict.

The US has also been alarmed about reports of a Russian military build-up in Syria, at a time when the Assad government has been losing ground to rebels.

Syria crisis: US and Russian defence chiefs discuss conflict
It is the first time the two men have spoken since Mr Carter became Secretary of Defence

Both sides however are concerned about the so-called Islamic State, with the US leading a coalition against the militant group.

News of the phone call between Mr Carter and Mr Shoigu emerged shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry said the US hoped military-to-military conversations would take place "very shortly".

The defence chiefs discussed areas where "perspectives overlap and areas of divergence," the Pentagon statement said, describing the talks as "constructive".

Analysis: Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent

Pictures released by the Syrian army appear to show new Russian military vehicles

The growing Russian military presence in Syria, not least the deployment of surface-to-air missiles to defend the airfield at Latakia, means that Washington and Moscow have a lot to talk about.

The phone call between the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu is only the first step.

The US and a number of its allies are flying strike missions into Syrian air space and they do not want to have any misunderstandings with Russia's forces there.

The Americans also want to get a clearer idea as to the purpose of the Russian presence in Syria.

Is this simply to secure a bridge-head to re-supply Mr Assad? Or does it herald a Russian intervention in the fighting?

Military talks between Moscow and Washington could also facilitate a better understanding on the diplomatic front with Syria likely to be a prominent issue in the crucial contacts on the margins of the UN General Assembly later this month.

In the 50-minute conversation, Mr Shoigu told Mr Carter that Russian activities in Syria were "defensive in nature," a US official told Reuters.

The two sides also agreed to further talks, reopening formal contact after relations were badly strained by Russian action last year in Ukraine.

The last conversation between the US defence chief and his Russian counterpart was last August when Mr Carter's predecessor Chuck Hagel held the office.

Meanwhile, Moscow has said that any request from Syria to send troops would be "discussed and considered".

A Russian human rights body said it has been contacted by Russian soldiers who fear being sent to fight in Syria.

Any secret deployment of troops to Syria would be illegal, said Sergei Krivenko of the Russian Human Rights Council.


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