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Kerry, Lavrov Meet To Explore Cooperation In Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a bilateral meeting on he sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos, on July 26.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a bilateral meeting on he sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos, on July 26.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to announce in early August details of a U.S. plan for closer military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Russia on Syria.

Kerry made the comments on July 26 after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in Laos.

The proposal envisages Washington and Moscow sharing intelligence to coordinate air strikes against the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front and prohibit the Syrian Air Force from attacking moderate rebel groups.

Kerry told reporters that there had been progress in recent days on moving forward with the plan.

"My hope is that somewhere in early August we would be in a position to stand up in front of you and tell you what we're able to do with the hopes it can make a difference to lives of people in Syria and to the course of the war," Kerry told a news conference in the capital Vientiane.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier in the day that he talked with Kerry about taking steps toward more coordination in Syria.

"Agreements reached at the last meeting with U.S. state secretary in Moscow were discussed during the recent contacts between our experts. If [the agreements] are implemented, we hope that we will be able to ensure disengagement between opposition forces and terrorists from Islamic State and [the Al-Nusra Front],” Lavrov was quoted as saying on July 26.

“We discussed what needs to be done in order for this agreement to start working in practice in the form of activities of Russian Aerospace Defense Forces and U.S. forces, as well as the U.S.-led coalition," Lavrov added.

The meeting between Kerry and Lavorv was held on the sidelines of a gathering of Asian foreign ministers in Laos.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on July 25 that the meeting was aimed at seeing if "it's possible...for the Russians to begin to do the right thing in Syria.”

Russia's policies so far have prolonged the five-year civil war there, Carter said, bolstering the hand of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he battles opposition rebels in the northern city of Aleppo and elsewhere.

"We had hoped that [Moscow] would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war," Carter said, but "they're a long way from doing that."

Kerry held marathon talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov in Moscow earlier this month, striking an agreement on "concrete steps" to salvage a failing truce and cooperate on battling extremist groups in Syria.

U.S. defense and intelligence agencies have reportedly had strong reservations about sharing intelligence with the Russians or cooperating in a way that could reveal sensitive U.S. military methods, techniques, and procedures.

But General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to assure on July 25 that no secrets would be violated.

"We're not entering into a transaction that's founded on trust," he said. "There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians that would...account for protecting our operational security."

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump seemed to back the idea of closer cooperation with Russia in the battle against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front.

"When you think about it, wouldn't it be nice if we got along with Russia?" Trump said at a campaign rally in North Carolina. "Wouldn't it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of [Islamic State]?"

E-Mail Leak

Trump, who has made a number of pro-Russia statements in the past, also dismissed suggestions that he or Russia might have had a hand in leaking Democratic National Committee e-mails that have embarrassed his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton just before she is due to be formally crowned the Democratic presidential nominee.

Clinton aides have charged that Russia, seeking to bolster a potential ally in Trump, is behind the e-mail leak.

Trump told CNN that was "one of the weirdest conspiracy theories" he had heard.

Speaking at the start of his meeting with John Kerry in Laos, Sergei Lavrov also appeared to reject the allegations.

Lavrov suggested a proper response to the suggestion that Moscow was behind the leak would involve using vulgar language. He replied in English: "Well, I don't want to use four-letter words."

Kerry said he broached the issue of the hacking of Democratic Party emails in his July 26 meeting with Lavrov.

"I raised the question and we will continue to work to see precisely what those facts are," Kerry told reporters.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and TASS
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