Ashton Carter demands Russia meet with US on Syria flight conflicts

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter briefs members of the press aboard an E-4B jet April 6, 2015. Carter is on a visit to the U.S. Pacific Command Area of Responsibility to make observations for the future force and the military's shift to the Pacific. (DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released)

MORON AIR BASE, Spain — Russian leaders should contact the Pentagon immediately for another talk about Moscow’s military activities in Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday, reflecting urgent concerns over Russia’s aircraft incursions into Turkish airspace.

A day after NATO denounced Russia for “irresponsible behavior” for allowing its warplanes to cross into Turkey, Carter said the U.S. has been waiting for a second meeting on how to avoid any accidents or miscalculations in the increasingly crowded skies over Syria. U.S. and Russian officials met once by video conference late last week.

The meetings were Moscow’s idea, he said, and “we await a response from them and we expect a response from them. They should come in and do it right now.”

He added, “It’s only professional that you follow through on the request they made and they’ve not done that yet, and that may be a further sign of their strategic confusion.”

Turkey, a NATO member, mentioned only one Russian intrusion over the weekend, but the military alliance said a second Russian jet also violated Turkish airspace Sunday. The airspace violations triggered immediate outrage from the alliance. Russia insisted the first incursion was a mistake and says it had nothing to do with the second one.

Carter and other NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss how to deal with the problem when they meet in Brussels later this week.

The U.S.-led coalition has been routinely conducting airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria.

Russia says the airstrikes it began last week are directed against the Islamic State group, as well as al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliates. But the U.S. and France say at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed rebel factions fighting government troops, with the real goal of protecting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Speaking to reporters during a stop at Moron Air Base in Spain, Carter said he couldn’t confirm reports that there may be Russian volunteer soldiers in Syria, but warned against it.

“That would simply be deepening their mistake in Syria, if it’s true,” said Carter. “Those people are going to come under attack.”

U.S. officials have been critical of Russia’s entrance into the Syrian conflict and Carter said the latest issues will cause the U.S. to further strengthen its posture against Moscow.

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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