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State Department Asked to Clarify Tillerson's Syria No-fly Zone Comment

FILE - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2017, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.S. State Department was asked to clarify on Thursday comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the U.S. was prepared to discuss no-fly zones in Syria with Russia.

Tillerson said in a statement on Wednesday: "The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on-the-ground cease-fire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance."

He said if the two countries could work to "establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria's political future."

When asked by reporters on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary's statement "describes how our interactions with Russia on Syria are at the moment."

The U.S. is "considering a lot of things," Nauert said. "The policy has not changed. Some of the words and some of the phrasing may have changed at this point, but overall it's just one of a series of options that the United States will now consider."

Moscow has questions

Tillerson's comments seemingly took Moscow by surprise, however, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also sought clarification of the U.S. envoy's comments.

"We have asked but we haven't got an answer to the question of what no-fly zones are envisioned, because there has never been any talk of them," Lavrov said, according to Russian news agencies.

He said the statement showed "an orientation of cooperation" between the two countries on Syria and was "a step in the right direction."

Washington and Moscow have been on opposing sides regarding Syria. Russia, along with Iran, is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. and an international coalition of other Western states, along with Turkey and Gulf monarchies, have long supported some of the rebels fighting the Assad regime. All sides claim to be fighting Islamic State terrorists.

Tillerson's statement came two days before a much-awaited meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 economic summit in Hamburg, Germany.

VOA's Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.