The Obama administration is considering a plan to coordinate strikes against terrorist groups in Syria with Russia if Moscow agrees to use its leverage with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop bombing U.S.-backed rebels, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The possible cooperation comes even as top administration officials publicly criticize Moscow’s own military actions in the country. Under the proposed plan, the U.S. military and Russian Air Force would expand joint airstrikes against the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which is primarily fighting regime forces.
In exchange for deepening the military cooperation, Russia would halt its attacks on U.S.-backed rebels and other groups the U.S. does not consider terrorists, and agree to pressure Assad — a close Russian ally — to stop them as well. Several U.S. officials familiar with the deliberations were highly skeptical Moscow would end up making good on such a deal.The Washington Post, has been the product of intense interagency debate, the officials said. The Post reported a text has been sent to Moscow, but two other senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no final decisions have been made.
While he declined to discuss specific details of the proposed partnership, State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday acknowledged the effort to coordinate more closely with Russia.”We have been clear about Russia’s obligations to ensure regime compliance with the cessation of hostilities,” Kirby said. “We have also been clear about the danger posed by al Qaeda in Syria to our own national security. We are looking at a number of measures to address both of these issue. While officials said the plan has the support of Secretary of State John Kerry, other top administration officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter, are said to be wary of deepening cooperation with Russia.
On Thursday, Carter spoke about Russia’s unhelpful presence in Syria but said there was the potential for cooperation if Moscow stepped up its strikes against ISIS and helped move the political process for resolving the Syrian civil war forward. “If the Russians would do the right thing in Syria — and that’s an important condition — as in all cases with Russia, we’re willing to work with them,” Carter said. An agreement with Russia to stop targeting moderate opposition forces could prove useful as the U.S. helps a coalition of Syrian Arab and Kurdish rebels to advance on ISIS self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, something Carter said Washington was “very eager” to see happen “as soon as possible.
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