(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday night the Pentagon has made it very clear in talks with the Russian military that “Russia has to not be engaged in any activities [inside Syria] against anybody but ISIL,” an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia and the U.S.-led coalition saw eye-to-eye on who the targets were in Syria – “ISIL, [Jabhat] al-Nusra and other terrorist groups.”
Briefing reporters at the U.N. in New York, Lavrov was asked which specific groups in Syria, apart from ISIS, Russia regards as terrorists.
“Well, if it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist – it’s a terrorist,” he replied.
Kerry, speaking alongside his Turkish counterpart in New York later, said initial talks between the U.S. and Russian militaries on the situation in Syria, where Russia launched airstrikes this week, had taken place and more would follow.
“Mil-mil talks took place today, and a proposal’s been sent, and they’re working on the next meeting. And the meeting will happen, I’m confident,” he said.
“Though what’s important is Russia has to not be engaged in any activities against anybody but ISIL,” Kerry added. “It’s – that’s clear. They’ve made that very clear.”
(According to Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, the military-to-military talks took place via video teleconference on Thursday morning and lasted just over an hour.)
Following multiple reports that Russian airstrikes in Syria have struck groups other than ISIS – possibly including opposition groups supported by the U.S. – the Kremlin spokesman said earlier Thursday that the aircraft were targeting ISIS and other “well known” groups, adding that “the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria.”
The Assad regime describes all of the forces arrayed against it – a range of Sunni and Kurdish nationalists, Salafists and jihadists including ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra – as “terrorists.”
For its part, the U.S.-led coalition’s year-long Syria mission – comprising 2,580 airstrikes as of Wednesday – has focused almost exclusively on ISIS, with a handful of additional strikes against Jabhat al-Nusra elements dubbed the “Khorasan group,” which the Pentagon says is plotting terror attacks against the West.
The administration’s anti-ISIS strategy includes training and supplying vetted fighters attached to the Free Syria Army and other rebel formations, although with the stated goal of fighting ISIS, not the regime. President Bashar al-Assad must go, it says, but as a result of a negotiated transition, not an armed campaign.
Lavrov said Russia could not join the U.S.-led military operation against ISIS because that effort was taking place without the permission of the Syrian government. Russia says its own action came only after and at the request of Assad.
Russia’s defense ministry said a second day of airstrikes had hit “four ISIS facilities” including an ammunition depot near Idlib and a three-level headquarters near Hama, and that all airstrikes were being carried out in coordination with the Syrian Army.
But speaking from Baghdad, U.S. coalition military spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon, “I’m not going to get into exactly who [the Russians] hit, but we don’t believe that they struck ISIL targets.”