Pentagon on Russia in Syria: We’ve Voiced Our Concerns

AP Photo/ Sergei Karpukhin
AP Photo/ Sergei Karpukhin

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), when asked if it was planning to take action to prevent Russia’s military buildup in Syria, said it was tracking the situation closely and had voiced its concerns to the Russians.

DOD failed to outline any specific plan of action, only saying that it considers military support to the Syrian government as “counterproductive.”

During a press conference on Tuesday, a reporter asked Cook if the United States had a plan of action in place to prevent Russia from building up its military presence in Syria.

The Pentagon is “tracking these developments,” responded Cook.

“We’ve tried to keep abreast of what’s happening there. Secretary [of State John] Kerry’s had engagement with his counterpart in recent days and that has been the outlet for us to communicate our concerns to the Russians,” he continued.

Cook said that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has not discussed Russia’s military presence in Syria with his Russian counterpart.

Secretary of State Kerry, in charge of diplomacy, is leading the discussions with the Russians, according to Cook.

Regarding Moscow expanding its military presence in Syria, Cook declared that America considers military support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad “counterproductive to the ultimate goal of a peaceful resolution in Syria.”

Cook was asked if there was someone at the Pentagon drafting plans to stop Russian military planes from entering Syria.

He noted that the United States was engaged in “diplomatic negotiations” with allies and partners in the region, but did not specifically say what was being discussed.

When asked to outline consequences Russia would face if it provided military support to Assad, Cook responded, “I’m not going to talk about red lines up here from this podium.”

Cook stressed that the Obama administration supports a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“There will be a political solution and we are encouraging, again, the Russians to consider that in their efforts in Syria as well,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly defended his country’s military assistance to the Assad regime, saying that cooperating with Damascus is essential to defeating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Cook was asked, “What is stopping the Russians from making these [military] flights if all they hear from Washington is it’s counterproductive?”

“We have made our position clear,” responded the spokesman.

“If there’s an opportunity for them to play a constructive role here in the effort against ISIL, then by all means, we think there should be that opportunity, but right now we don’t see that in terms of the actions the Russians are taking right now,” he added, stopping short from saying Moscow was providing military assistance to Assad.

Although military-to-military relations between the U.S. and Russia were suspended in response to Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine, Cook said nothing is preventing Secretary Carter from talking to his Russian counterpart.


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