WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top official says the US is willing to work with Russian forces in Syria against the militant Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as long as such actions coincide with the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made his comments during a brief press event with Colonel-General Stepan Poltorak, the Ukranian Minister of Defense.
“The United States believes that these two interests must be pursued in parallel,” Carter said.
He also warned that Russia would exacerbate the chaos in Syria if it were to “indiscriminately attack all the foes of Assad,” not just Islamic State militants, adding that such widespread attacks would lead to the higher recruitment for the group.
“To pursue the defeat of ISIL without, at the same time, pursuing a political transition, is to fuel the very kind of extremism that underlies ISIL, and if that's the Russian view, that's a logical contradiction,” Carter said.
He also dodged a direct question about whether the US is preparing for Russia to attack ISIS on its own, noting that the two sides will talking about Russian “intentions, both on the political track and the military track.”
As Poltorak looked on, Carter emphasized that whatever the relationship ends up being between Russia and the US in Syria, it will not impact the support of Ukraine.
“These ongoing discussions on Syria will not in any way take away from our strong condemnation of Russian actions in Ukraine or change our sanctions and security support in response to those destabilizing actions,” Carter said.
Poltorak later said that, in the eyes of the government of Ukraine, Russia’s movement into Syria is “one of the factors to divert the attention of international community from the problems in Ukraine.”
He also added that discussions of the US selling lethal weaponry to Ukraine was not brought up during his time with Carter. Some members of Congress have called for the supplying of such equipment to Ukrainian forces.
President Barack Obama is planning to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations next week, at what US officials have said was Putin’s request.