US open to talks with Russia on Syria: White House

AFP , Thursday 17 Sep 2015

Josh Earnest
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 9, 2015. (Photo: AP)

The White House said Thursday it was open to limited talks with Russia following Moscow's deployment of troops and heavy weapons to war-torn Syria.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States could be willing to take up a Russian offer of talks so long as they were "tactical, practical discussions."

Amid suspicions that Russia is moving to further prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, President Barack Obama's critics are sure to pounce on the decision.

It was not immediately clear whether the discussions would be held by the military or civilians, or at what level.

Military dialogue between Russia and the United States had been suspended since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of Ukraine.

The White House said it would use the talks to urge Russia to focus its actions in Syria on countering the Islamic State group.

Moscow has long portrayed Assad's army as a bulwark against Islamist rebels, including the Islamic State, and has sent military equipment and trainers to bolster his position.

Washington views Assad as a pariah who shoulders the blame for driving Syria into a civil war that has killed 240,000 people and displaced four million.

"We have made clear that Russia's military actions inside of Syria, if they are used to prop up the Assad regime, would be destabilizing and counterproductive," said Earnest.

"That all being said, we have long indicated we could welcome constructive contributions from the Russians to the anti-ISIL coalition," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

"That is why we remain open to tactical, practical discussions with the Russians in order to further the goals of the counter-ISIL coalition and to ensure the safe conduct of the coalition operations."

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