The U.S. secretary of state has warned Russian actions in Syria risk a confrontation with the coalition opposing the Islamic State group, while his Russian counterpart claims Washington is becoming more receptive to Moscow's position on the conflict.
Italy's La Stampa newspaper quoted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday as saying he had conveyed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the U.S. concern over Russia's military support for the government of Bashar al-Assad.
"These actions could provoke a further escalation of the conflict and lead to the loss of more innocent lives, increasing the flow of refugees and risking a confrontation with the anti-ISIS (Islamic State) coalition operating in Syria," Kerry told the newspaper.
Lavrov, suggested in remarks Wednesday in Moscow the U.S. government has become more sympathetic to Russia's policy of backing the Assad government against the rebel groups seeking its removal.
"I think Americans are much more receptive to the arguments that we have been using for several years," Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency quoted him as saying.
Lavrov referred to last Friday's telephone conversation between U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. A senior U.S. official described that conversation as "constructive" but said "there was no discussion of immediate Russian activity in Syria."
U.S. officials told VOA Monday that Russia has 28 advanced attack aircraft at an air base near the Syrian coastal town of Latakia, up from four confirmed Russian warplanes on Friday.
Kerry said Tuesday that U.S. military experts believe the Russian planes sent to the Syrian air base are there for basic "force protection," intended to protect Russian soldiers and assets already on the ground.
And there are signs Moscow may be preparing to expand its military presence in Syria. Satellite imagery released Tuesday by the defense research firm IHS Jane's show new construction at two other Syrian military facilities near Latakia. Jane's analysts said the presence of Russian-style military tents at one of the sites suggested preparations for a larger force.
Asked Wednesday about the reports that Russia is preparing two bases in Syria to receive a larger force, Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin had already explained "everything that we are doing in Syria." He also questioned the veracity of reporting by Western media.
Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to Russia was quoted Wednesday as saying his government would welcome the establishment of a Russian military base in Latakia.
"We fully coordinate our steps with our friends in Russia, and I don't see anything strange in this step," the Interfax news agency quoted Riad Haddad as saying. "We agree with any initiatives that come from the Russian Federation. If Russia is willing, Syria will welcome this move, because it will be directed against terrorism in our land."