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Carter: Russia 'Way Off Track' in Syria


FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter
FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says Russia is "way off track" in its involvement in Syria.

Carter said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum, named for the late U.S. president, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not considered his Syrian strategy very thoroughly.

"Russia is throwing gasoline on an already dangerous fire, prolonging a civil war that fuels the very extremism Russia claims to oppose."

Carter said the Russians are not fighting Islamic State as they said they would, and are backing President Bashar al-Assad instead of working for a political transition.

But if the U.S., and Russia can cooperate on matters of mutual interest, such as curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, Carter said it is possible Russia may play a constructive role in bringing the Syrian civil war to an end.

Strong, balanced approach

The secretary also told the forum that the U.S. is taking a page out of the Reagan Cold War playbook by taking a "strong and balanced" approach to deter Moscow's aggression in Syria and Ukraine and against the Baltics.

Carter said those steps include modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, updating operational plans for deterrence and defense, and investing in technologies that he says are "most relevant to Russian provocations."

They include a new long-range bomber, lasers, new systems for electronic warfare and cyberspace, and "a few surprising ones" that Carter said he cannot talk about at this time.

South China Sea

Carter said Saturday the United States and everyone else in Asia-Pacific is "deeply concerned" about the risk of conflict between those making claims in the South China Sea.

South China Sea Territorial Claims
South China Sea Territorial Claims

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum near Los Angeles, Carter said the pace and scope of land reclamation by China and others increase the risk of miscalculation and ought to stop.

A Chinese destroyer trailed a U.S. warship last month as it came within 11 kilometers of an artificial island China is building in the South China Sea. China has territorial claims in nearly the entire body of water. Several other countries are also making claims.

Someone asked Carter Saturday whether "a bunch of rocks on the other side of the world" is worth a showdown with China.

Freedom of navigation

Carter replied that the point of the U.S. warship's mission was freedom of navigation in international waters which are a trillion dollar global trade route. He said this freedom is critical and that the U.S. needs to stick up for it.

But Carter said the American security rebalance in the Pacific is not aimed at holding any nation back.

"The United States wants every nation to have the opportunity to rise because it's good for the region and good for all our countries. That includes China...but it must uphold President Xi's pledge not to 'pursue militarization' in the South China Sea."

Carter said he has accepted Xi's invitation to visit China sometime next year. He said they will surely discuss differences as well as talking about the many ways to cooperate on such vital matters as global warming, piracy, and humanitarian disasters.