08:11 GMT18 February 2020
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    The United States and Russia must agree on which groups in Syria should not be targeted or future military cooperation will be impossible, former US Under Secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim told Sputnik.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — On September 30, 2015, Russia launched an air campaign against terrorist positions in Syria at the request of President Bashar Assad, and through March 2016 had conducted 9,000 airstrikes in support of Syrian government offensives.

    Nearly one year later, the United States and Russia planned to coordinate counterterrorism operations in Syria after a week of calm, as stipulated in a ceasefire accord US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov consummated on September 9 in Geneva after marathon negotiations. Shortly after, however, the truce imploded after a series of violations and finger-pointing.

    “Perhaps if they [United States and Russia] can implement an understanding on which parties not to fire on [in Syria], and then keep that agreement, it may then be possible to advance a further modicum of cooperation,” Zakheim explained.

    While the United States and Russia agreed to exclude Daesh and al-Nusra Front from the ceasefire, Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington to ensure Syrian opposition fighters separate themselves from terrorists.

    Zakheim claimed that given the latest breakdown of the ceasefire in Syria and the recriminations that followed, it will be very difficult for the United States and Russia to restore the degree of mutual trust required for cooperating militarily in the future.

    The cessation of hostilities calls for the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center (JIC) designed to help the US and Russian militaries coordinate airstrikes against Nusra Front terrorist positions in Syria.

    Ceasefire violations, however, have dampened hopes of establishing the JIC anytime soon, especially in light of a US airstrike on Syrian government forces on September 17. Washington exacerbated the situation by holding Russia responsible for an attack on a UN aid convoy and recent Syrian government offensives in Aleppo.

    Last week, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman US Col. John Dorrian told reporters that the JIC was “on hold” but the United States and Russia would continue to work together on deconflicting air operations over Syria.

    On Tuesday, US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that although the United States was under no illusion that a ceasefire was in effect in Syria, Washington was still interested in pursuing the implementation of the ceasefire. Toner was unable, however, to say if Kerry and Lavrov would talk in the coming 48 hours despite the dire situation.

    Dov Zakheim served as US Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Pentagon Chief Financial Officer from 2001 to 2004. He was also US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Planning and Resources from 1985 to 1987, among other senior posts in both the federal government and private sector.


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