Can Russia And The U.S. Really Work Together In Syria? Some national security leaders are skeptical about Washington's attempted overtures to Moscow to establish better coordination in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
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Can Russia And The U.S. Really Work Together In Syria?

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Can Russia And The U.S. Really Work Together In Syria?

Can Russia And The U.S. Really Work Together In Syria?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This week we've seen flashbacks of the Cold War. Russia is suspected of stealing thousands of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, and in sports, Russia is once again at odds with the West, this time over a state-sponsored doping scheme. So it seems like an odd time for the U.S. to share military intelligence with Russia. But as NPR's David Welna reports, that is just what Secretary of State John Kerry is proposing.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Secretary Kerry started pushing for a deal to cooperate in Syria 12 days ago with a trip to Moscow where he met with Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart. Yesterday the two met again, this time in Laos. Kerry spoke to reporters there after that meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN KERRY: In simple terms, what everybody knows we're trying to do is strengthen the cessation of hostilities, provide a framework which allows us to actually get to the table and have a real negotiation.

WELNA: The negotiation would be to end Syria's brutal civil war and set up a transitional government. To get there, Kerry would have the U.S. share intelligence with Russia to target airstrikes against an al-Qaida affiliate called The Nusra Front. In exchange, Russia would prevail on its ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to stop bombing moderate rebel groups and civilians.

ROBERT FORD: I think there are many questions about Russia's intent in all of this

WELNA: That's Robert Ford, the last American ambassador to Syria. He's now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. Things have changed a lot, Ford says, since last fall when Russia joined the fighting in Syria and Obama administration officials saw Moscow ending up in a quagmire.

FORD: Russians and their Syrian government allies are winning on the battlefield right now. The Russians have escalated sharply. The Iranians have also escalated sharply, sent in many more men. And the Syrian government had advanced on the ground.

WELNA: Which may be why officials at the Pentagon seem wary about the deal Kerry's trying to cut with Moscow. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was asked about it earlier this week at a news conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ASH CARTER: I'm very enthusiastic about the idea of the Russians getting on side and doing the right thing. I think that would be a good thing if they did. I think we're a ways from getting that frame of mind in Russia.

WELNA: And that's because, Carter added, Russia's been bombing Syria's moderate opposition groups instead of extremists.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CARTER: They obviously have been backing the regime, which has had the effect of prolonging the civil war, whereas we had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war.

WELNA: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joe Dunford was asked at the same news conference about reports that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee's computers. He did not dismiss those reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOSEPH DUNFORD: We're well aware of state actors who include Russia that have attempted to penetrate our network.

WELNA: Still, Dunford insisted the deal being pursued with Russia on Syria is not founded on trust.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DUNFORD: There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians that would account for protecting our operational security.

WELNA: The deal's details remain under wraps. Secretary Kerry says more homework still has to be done in what he calls a series of quiet meetings.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

KERRY: In order to make certain that the doubts expressed by Secretary Carter, by Chairman Dunford or the doubts expressed by President Putin or the Russians are going to be addressed ahead of time.

WELNA: Removing those doubts may not be easy. Some officials in Washington, especially in the intelligence community, say Kerry's being played by Moscow - that while he's holding in his hand fives and sixes, Russia's got the face cards in Syria. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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