Hours after the Turkish shootdown of a Russian warplane along the Syria-Turkey border, U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the need to de-escalate tensions and prevent further incidents.
The White House, in a statement late Tuesday, said the two leaders conferred by phone and voiced their commitment to developing a transitional political process for peace in Syria and international support for defeating Islamic State extremists. The statement also reiterated U.S. support for Turkey's right to defend its airspace.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama, speaking in Washington, cited the downing of the Russian plane as evidence of an "ongoing problem" with Russia's military operations in Syria.
Speaking alongside French President Francois Hollande at the White House, Obama said U.S. authorities were still collecting details of the shootdown, while noting that Russian military aircraft have been targeting moderate Syrian opposition groups very close to Turkey's borders.
He urged the two sides to "take measures to discourage any kind of escalation" and said the incident showed a need to move quickly toward a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government insists the Russian jet never entered Turkish airspace, accused Ankara of "stabbing" Russia "in the back" with the shootdown, equating the Turkish action to supporting terrorism.
Turkey said the plane was shot down after it violated Turkish airspace and ignored 10 warnings to leave in a span of five minutes. Erdogan said his country made its "best efforts" to avoid such an incident, while insisting "everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders."
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that Turkish pilots issued repeated warnings to the Russian plane and didn't get a response.
Putin acknowledged the Russian jet was shot down by a Turkish F-16, after Russian officials had earlier said "firing from the ground" was responsible for downing the plane. But he said the fighter was over Syrian territory 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was hit, and that it never threatened Turkey.
"This event goes beyond the framework of the regular fight against terrorism," Putin said at a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
"Of course, our servicemen are waging a heroic fight against terror — not sparing themselves, sacrificing their own lives. But today's loss is connected to a stab in the back by accomplices of the terrorists. There is no other way to characterize what happened today," he said.
Putin also said Russia had long noted "a large amount of oil and oil products" entering Turkey from Islamic State-held territory in Syria, providing the terrorist group with a "large money supply."
He added, "Today's tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had canceled a planned visit to Turkey and said his ministry was recommending that Russians not travel to Turkey “for tourism or any other purposes.”
NATO held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the incident. Afterward, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the 28-nation group supported the territorial integrity of Turkey, calling the member country "our NATO ally."
Video released by Turkey showed what appeared to be two pilots parachuting from the doomed jet. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said the plane went down in the Turkmen Mountains in Latakia province. Pro-government forces have been fighting in that region and the Islamic State group is not known to be present there.
The Interfax news agency Tuesday evening quoted a spokesman for the Russian armed forces’ general staff, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, as saying that one of the two pilots of the Su-24 was apparently killed by ground fire after ejecting from the plane.
The military spokesman also said that a Russian marine was killed when an Mi-8 helicopter sent to rescue the downed pilots came under fire from rebel-controlled territory.
Turkish officials have issued multiple warnings about aircraft violating its airspace during Syria's 4½-year civil war. Its forces shot down a Syrian helicopter in 2013 and last month took down an unidentified drone that crossed into its airspace.
Turkey has also complained about at least two instances of Russian jets flying in its airspace.
NATO protested those incursions, and in October noted what it called the "extreme danger of irresponsible behavior."
After the earlier Russian incursions into Turkey, the United States deployed six F-15 jets from Britain to Turkey's Incirlik Air Base to help the NATO ally secure its skies.
Russia began its military campaign in Syria in late September. In October, it reached an agreement with the United States, which is leading a coalition of countries bombing militants in Syria, to keep a safe distance and communicate in order to prevent midair disasters.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin in Washington, Daniel Schearf in Moscow and Dorian Jones in Istanbul contributed to this report.
Watch YouTube video of crash from Turkey's state-run Anadolu Ajansi: