September 16, 2015 / 5:47 PM / in 5 years

UPDATE 1-Kerry says Russia proposed U.S.-Russia military talks on Syria

(Adds details, quotes, background)

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Russia has proposed military talks with the United States on Syria, and the United States is considering next steps, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

Kerry said he was talking to the White House and Pentagon about the proposal following three phone calls with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in recent days.

Kerry was not specific about what the talks would involve, although he suggested they would be about ensuring that U.S. and Russian aircraft do not come into conflict with each other in Syria.

The United States is leading a coalition of countries fighting Islamic State in Syria, and Russia has claimed its recent military build-up in Syria was focused on countering the same threat.

“The Russians proposed ... that we have military-to-military conversation discuss what precisely what will be done to deconflict with respect to any potential risks that might be run and to have a complete and clear understanding as to the road ahead and what the intentions are,” Kerry told reporters after meeting his South African counterpart.

Kerry said the Obama administration was considering the proposal to fully understand Russia’s intentions, which would help avoid “miscalculations.”

“The White House, the Defense Department and State Department are discussing next steps in order to determine the best way forward, in order to have clarity about this road ahead,” he added.

Moscow has come under increased international pressure in recent days to explain its increased military presence in Syria, which the Pentagon has suggested are plans to establish a forward air operating base at Latakia.

The Kremlin has been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s more than four-year war. Moscow has been sending about two military cargo flights a day to an air base at Latakia, an Assad stronghold, according to U.S. officials.

Reuters has previously reported that Russia has deployed about 200 naval infantry soldiers to the airfield, as well as temporary housing units, a portable air traffic control station and half a dozen tanks. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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