Carter casts doubt on military partnership with Russia

July 25, 2016 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday cast doubt on prospects for a military partnership with Russia to combat the Islamic State inside Syria.

At a Pentagon news conference with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter was asked his view of Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish military cooperation in Syria. He said the problem is that Russia is focused mainly on supporting the Syrian government, which he said has had the effect of prolonging the civil war.

“We had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war, which is the beginning of all this violence in Syria, and then combat extremists rather than moderate opposition, which has to be part of that transition,” Carter said. “So they’re a long way from doing that.”

When a reporter told Carter that he sounded unenthusiastic about the Kerry effort, Carter said, “No, I’m very enthusiastic about the idea of the Russians getting on side and doing the right thing. And I think that would be a good thing if they did. I think we’re a ways from getting that frame of mind in Russia. But that’s what Secretary Kerry is working toward.”

Kerry has been talking to Russian officials about a proposal in which the U.S. would share intelligence and targeting information with the Russians. In exchange Moscow would use its influence with the Syrian regime to effectively ground the Syrian air force and to promote a political solution to a civil war that has killed as many as a half a million people.

Both Carter and Dunford said any arrangement with the Russians to coordinate military action in Syria would be transactional and not based on trust.

Kerry’s talks with Moscow 10 days ago came after a leaked proposal showed the U.S. offering Russia a broad new military partnership against IS and the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate. Several conditions would apply, including Russia committing to grounding Syria’s bombers and starting a long-sought political transition process.

Dunford denied reports that U.S.-backed opposition forces have coordinated with Nusra in some cases.

“We don’t have any indication that the forces that we are providing support to in Syria are cooperating or intermingled with al-Nusra,” the general said.