US 'offers Russia military pact against Islamic State in Syria'
Published 14/07/2016 | 14:41
The United States is offering Russia a new military pact against Islamic State and al Qaida in Syria, according to a leaked proposal.
The document, published by The Washington Post, calls for joint bombing operations, a command-and-control headquarters and other synchronised efforts.
US and Russian officials with expertise in intelligence, targeting and air operations will "work together to defeat" the extremist groups, the eight-page paper states.
US secretary of state John Kerry, who was due to discuss the proposal in Moscow on Thursday, declined to comment.
"I'm going to Moscow, meeting with President (Vladimir) Putin tonight," Mr Kerry said. "We'll have plenty of time to talk about it and I'll give you all a sense of where we are."
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said only that joint US-Russian efforts were key to fighting terrorism in the region.
Such a partnership would undercut months of US criticism of Russia's military intervention in Syria, and it would put the US alongside Syrian president Bashar Assad's chief international backer, despite years of American demands for Assad to leave power.
Russia would be getting what it wanted since it first intervened in Syria on Assad's behalf last September - to be a leader in an international alliance.
Washington has rebuffed Moscow's requests for military cooperation, accusing the Russians of using anti-terrorism objectives as a pretext for protecting Assad's position, of repeatedly violating truces and attacking moderate rebel groups backed by the US or its allies as well as civilian targets.
Much of Washington is wary about working too closely with Russia. A document signed by 51 State Department officials last month showed a sizeable part of America's diplomatic establishment believed a US military response against Assad's forces was necessary, given Moscow's increased leverage as a result of its intervention.
Opposition to this latest Syria plan is shared by a significant number of officials at the State Department, Pentagon and in the US intelligence community, according to several American officials.
The proposed, US-Russian Joint Implementation Group, would be headquartered near Amman, Jordan. At its most basic level, the former Cold War foes would share intelligence and targeting information. But they "should coordinate procedures to permit integrated operations," if the US and Russia decide such operations are in their interests, the document said.
Russia would confine air strikes to vetted targets and not let Syrian forces bomb "designated areas".
In exchange for US cooperation, the Russians would pressure Assad into ending a bombing campaign against moderate militant groups and civilians, and allow unfettered aid to besieged, rebel-held areas. Washington also wants Russia's help in forcing Assad to start a political transition that would ultimately end his family's four-decade hold over the country.
Russia supports the vague idea of "transition" but has never publicly spoken of Assad having to resign.