US, Russia inching closer to deal on Syria flights

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As the risk of inadvertent clashes between the US and Russian jet fighters are increasing in the Syrian airspace, Washington and Moscow are striving to finalize a memorandum of understanding on aerial operations in the Arab country, officials say.

CNN quoted an unnamed official as saying on Wednesday that both Moscow and Washington “have a consensus on the technical aspects” of how parties to the agreement will conduct themselves to assure the safety of their pilots in the Syrian airspace.

The official, however, said they still have some final details over the wording of the agreement to work out.

Earlier on Wednesday, American and Russian defense officials held their third video conference to reach an understanding over the issue which raised after Russia launched its air campaign against Daesh Takfiri terrorists on September 30.

The US has also been carrying out its own airstrikes in Syria, allegedly pounding Daesh positions inside the country.

Last week, two American and two Russian aircraft “entered the same battle space” in the Syrian airspace, getting within miles of each other, according to Steve Warren, spokesman for the US military taskforce in the region.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Russian jet got to about 2 or 3 kilometers from the US plane on Saturday, “not to intimidate, but to identify the object.”

“It’s not the first such incident,” he said. “Our pilots quite frequently visually record in the airspace above Syria not only flights by US planes, but also unmanned aircraft.”

He said that he hoped US and Russian officials would agree on how to avoid, but criticized Washington Russian President Vladimir Putin refusing deeper cooperation.

Putin also said on Tuesday that military cooperation should go beyond the current technical talks to avoid clashes in the Syrian airspace.

Russia began its airstrikes in Syria after warning US to take its warplanes out of the territory. The Pentagon, however, refused to comply with Moscow’s demand.

Russian military has focused its airstrikes on the western side of the country, around Syria’s northwestern province of Lattakia, Homs and around Idlib. The US however, conduct its air attacks in the east, along the Euphrates Valley.

The US continues to accuse Putin of focusing on the opposition groups that are fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Putin, however, has repeatedly assured that Russian jet fighters were targeting ISIL terrorists.

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