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US, Russia Set to Sign Memo on Air Safety in Syria


FILE - A U.S.-led coalition aircraft flies over Kobanii, as seen near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province.

FILE - A U.S.-led coalition aircraft flies over Kobanii, as seen near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province.

Russia and the United States likely will sign Tuesday a memorandum of understanding on air safety over Syrian skies, according to the Pentagon.

"It's just simply a question now of wording in the document and having the document signed, so we're very close," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.

Davis stressed the air guidelines established with Russia are not part of a broader agreement on how the two countries could operate in Syria. They are aimed merely at preventing U.S. and Russian aircraft from colliding over Syria, where both countries are conducting bombing missions.

FILE - Smoke rises after shelling by the Syrian army, after Russian airstrikes, in Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015.

FILE - Smoke rises after shelling by the Syrian army, after Russian airstrikes, in Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015.

“It's narrowly focused on air-space safety. It's not an agreement,” he said. “We actually fundamentally disagree with just about everything Russia's doing in Syria."

A U.S. official told VOA the memorandum of understanding will include a choice of radio frequency for communication and other safety measures to “professionally” share the skies over Syria.

US targets IS

The U.S.-led coalition has targeted Islamic State militants in Syria with airstrikes for more than a year.

Russia said it is also targeting the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, but the Pentagon and Syrian rights groups say the majority of Russia’s strikes aren’t anywhere near Islamic State-controlled territory.

The Briain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that Russian airstrikes killed at least 45 people Monday in Latakia province.

The Russians asked the U.S. for talks on “deconfliction” after beginning airstrikes last month.

FILE - In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 showing a target hit during a Russian air raid in Syria. Russian Defense Ministry said the strike was performed by an Su-24M bomber in Idlib

FILE - In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 showing a target hit during a Russian air raid in Syria. Russian Defense Ministry said the strike was performed by an Su-24M bomber in Idlib

The Pentagon has reported no major incidents in Syrian skies since Russia started airstrikes there. Defense officials have pointed out, however, that coalition aircraft have had to change course to avoid getting too close to Russian jets.

Davis told reporters the U.S.-led coalition has avoided encounters with Syrian aircraft for more than a year and would not be deterred by “other actors” in the fight against the Islamic State group.

He said the U.S. military feels the upcoming memorandum of understanding with the Russians, though, is “worth doing” to help ensure the safety of U.S. pilots.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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