Russia says it has asked the US to provide more details about its proposal to work together with Moscow to set up “no-fly zones” in Syria.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had on Wednesday said Washington was “prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones” in the Arab country.
A day later, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said, “We have asked (for information). We haven’t yet received a response to the question about which no-fly zones they have in mind, because no-one was ever talking about them.”
Moscow is also still waiting for the US to respond to its own proposals on Syria which were presented to Washington a few months ago, Lavrov added.
Since 2015, Russia has been conducting cruise missile strikes and aerial attacks against terrorist positions in Syria at a request from the Syrian government. The US has been leading dozens of its allies in a military mission purportedly aimed rooting out Daesh since 2014.
Russia has suspended communications with the US, which used to be carried out via a hotline set up to prevent accidents over Syrian airspace.
The suspension of the military contact came after a US warplane hit a Syrian Su-22 aircraft with a missile last month. The US claimed that it had targeted the plane “in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces” in the city of Taqba in northern Syria
Moscow says Washington had failed to inform it about the hit through the hotline.
Lavrov further said that despite the standing questions over Tillerson’s comments, Moscow saw any willingness by the US to cooperate on Syria as a “step in the right direction.”
Russia is separately pushing through with a plan alongside Iran and Turkey to set up four de-escalation zones throughout Syria, where air strikes would be halted.
The three countries have been successfully mediating talks between the Syrian government and opposition in the Kazakh capital of Astana since January.
Chemical bone of contention
Also on Thursday, the Russian foreign minister visited Paris, where he discussed the Syria crisis with his French opposite number, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The two sides stressed the need for fighting terrorism in Syria as a common objective.
“Terrorism is our number one enemy and to fight it we have to put everything else aside,” Lavrov said in a joint press conference.
Le Drian, whose country backs the militant groups fighting against the Syrian government, said Paris set a red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
He further claimed, “What’s at stake is to be able to dismantle the regime’s chemical weapons’ stocks,” said the top French diplomat.
This is while the Syrian government turned over its entire chemical stockpile under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States back in 2013. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has overseen operations to remove the chemical arsenal from Syria.
Late last month, the White House accused Syria of preparing to stage a chemical attack in the Arab country, threatening that the US would make Damascus pay “a heavy price.”
On April 4, over 80 people died in an incident involving chemicals in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the western Idlib Province of Syria. Western countries blamed the Syrian government for what they said was a chemical attack, and days later, the US used it as a pretext to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in the central province of Homs. US officials claimed that the alleged Khan Shaykhun gas attack had been launched from that airfield.
Syria and Russia say Damascus had conducted a conventional airstrike on militant positions in Khan Shaykhun, which also targeted a chemical arms depot held and run by anti-Damascus militants, causing a leakage of the toxic substance and the deaths.
The head of a joint UN-OPCW investigation into the April 4 attack, meanwhile, said the panel was facing heavy political pressure as it prepared to present its findings in mid-October.
Edmond Mulet complained of a “highly politicized environment” in which unnamed “interested parties” were seeking to influence the panel.
“We do receive, unfortunately, direct and indirect messages all the time from many sides telling us how to do our work,” he said. “Some of these messages are very clear in saying that if we don’t do our work according to them ... then they will not accept the conclusions of our work.”
“The messages are coming from everywhere,” Mulet added, suggesting that Western powers were in frequent contact with the panel. He said he appealed to them to “please let us do our work” and pledged the investigators would be impartial, objective, and independent.