Joint Chiefs Chairman: Don't Trust Russia to Help End Syrian War

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hold a press conference at the Pentagon, July 25, 2016. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hold a press conference at the Pentagon, July 25, 2016. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday that he doesn't trust the Russians to live up to agreements and was wary of plans to cooperate with them on ending Syria's civil war.

At a Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Dunford said he was well aware of Secretary of State John Kerry's ongoing efforts to reach an accommodation with Russia on Syria, but "it's hard for me to comment on whether it will be viable."

Currently, the U.S. military has limited contacts with the Russians to avoid misunderstandings and ensure force protection for U.S. air and ground forces, but "it's not based on trust," Dunford said.

Should Kerry's negotiations with Moscow be successful, the U.S. should be mindful that "We're not entering into a transaction that's founded on trust," Dunford said.

Carter said that cooperation with Russia was worth exploring if the endgame was to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, suppress radical extremists and end Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 300,000 and triggered a refugee crisis.

"I'm very enthusiastic about the idea of the Russians getting on side," Carter said, but "they're a long way from doing that. We'll see whether it's possible. This is what Secretary Kerry is exploring," but the Russians thus far "obviously have been backing [the] regime" of Assad.

"We had hoped that they would promote a transition" out of power for Assad, Carter said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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