The Pentagon announced Tuesday it will open “lines of communication” with Russia to deconflict air operations in Syria, Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said.
“We expect the details of those conversations, including the exact timing of those conversations, will be worked out in the coming day,” Cook said at a press briefing.
The move keeps in place a suspension in the U.S.-Russia military relationship over the Ukraine conflict, while allowing the two sides to avoid potential accidents in Syria.
“The purpose of these deconfliction discussions will be to ensure that ongoing coalition air operations are not interrupted by any future Russian military activity, to ensure the safety of coalition air crews and to avoid misjudgment and miscalculation,” Cook said.
The need for deconfliction in Syria’s airspace has grown, with the U.S. and other coalition forces conducting air operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) there, and Russia readying to launch its own airstrikes.
Russia has surged fighter aircraft, vehicles, troops and other equipment to an airfield in western Syria, purportedly to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his two-front war against ISIS and other opposition groups.
Russia has also begun flying surveillance operations in Syria, the Pentagon confirmed on Friday.
Moscow insists its operations are geared toward protecting ally President Assad, versus attacking anti-regime forces who the U.S. is supporting in its fight against ISIS.
The administration says it would consider working with Russia if its operations are strictly against ISIS, and not bolstering Assad and attacking other groups.
“As the presidents discussed in New York, the United States and Russia have a common interest in fighting [ISIS] in Syria,” Cook said.
“As the secretary made clear in his own conversation with [Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu], the goal here should be to take the fight to [ISIS] and not to provide support or defend the Assad regime,” he added.