President Barack Obama said the U.S. has reached an agreement with Russia to avoid clashes in the skies as their air forces conduct bombing raids in Syria, though he added that the world powers remain far apart in their approach to the conflict.
“The only understanding that we’ve arrived at is how do we ‘deconflict’ in the event that our planes and their planes might be occupying similar space over Syrian skies,” Obama said Friday at a White House news conference. “So in that sense we’ve arrived at an understanding and some channels for communication. Where we will continue to differ is in the basic set of principles and strategies we’re pursuing inside of Syria.”
He spoke hours after Russia said the parties were close to signing the accord on military-to-military communications.
“All the technical details have been already agreed and now Russian and U.S. lawyers are checking the text of the document,” Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov said, according to a statement on the Russian Defense Ministry’s website. “We expect this document to be signed very soon.”
Russia began air strikes in Syria on Sept. 30 to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad against an array of groups it calls terrorists, including some supported by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. has focused its campaign on Islamic State and has said Assad must step down as part of a political settlement to the war.
Emphasizing the limits of the accord reached in video conferences between the U.S. and Russian militaries, Obama said Russia is “not going to be able to bomb their way into a peaceful situation in Syria” so long as it supports Assad.
The accord on communications between the U.S. and Russia came as Turkey said its military shot down a drone near the Syrian border on Friday. The nationality of the pilotless aircraft, which flew three kilometers (1.9 miles) inside Turkey’s border, can’t be identified yet, interim Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said.
The Turkish chief of staff reported Thursday that General Sergei Dronov, deputy head of the Russian air force, had visited to explain recent airspace violations by Russian jets. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the intrusions unacceptable last week and said NATO has “a duty to reinforce” its member state.
Russia’s air operations in Syria may lead to accidents and it’s “making a mistake” by supporting Assad, Sinirlioglu said. The aircraft was shot down after three warnings went unheeded, Turkey’s military said in a statement.
All planes in Russia’s air group in Syria returned to base after their missions, while “unmanned aircraft conducting monitoring of the situation in Syria and conducting aerial reconnaissance are functioning normally,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Friday, according to the RIA Novosti news service.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Oct. 14 that both the Russian and the U.S. ambassadors to Turkey were recently called in and warned against arming Kurdish rebels fighting Islamic State who might allow those munitions to be used against Turkey.
The lira extended losses after the Turkish military’s announcement, trading as much as 1.1 percent weaker at 2.9106 per dollar. The ruble also weakened by as much 1.2 percent, to 62.1103 to the dollar.
A MiG-29 fighter jet, whose military insignia couldn’t be determined, locked radar on Turkish F-16 warplanes for four minutes and 30 seconds along the Syrian border on Oct. 5, Turkey’s military said in a website statement last week. A Syrian surface-to-air missile system also locked radar on Turkish jets in a separate incident the same day.
Amid tensions over airspace violations, Russia and Turkey are establishing “lines of communication between our militaries in connection with events taking place in Syria,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov told a conference in Moscow on Thursday, the Interfax news service reported.
A Syrian Mig-23 warplane that briefly penetrated 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) into Turkish airspace was shot down by an air force missile in March last year after it ignored four warnings, Turkey’s military said in a statement at the time.