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Potential For U.S.-Russia Conflict Seen With Clinton's Syria Plan

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Russia might shoot down a U.S. plane if the United States tries to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Russia might shoot down a U.S. plane if the United States tries to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and a top U.S. intelligence official agreed on the potential for conflict with Russia if the United States adopts Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's plan on Syria.

Trump charged that it would lead to open warfare -- "World War Three" -- while National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Russia might shoot down a U.S. aircraft if the United States attempts to enforce a no-fly zone as Clinton has proposed in parts of Syria.

"I wouldn't put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground," National Intelligence Director James Clapper told CBS's Charlie Rose at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on October 25.

Russia has deployed a very advanced and capable air defense system in Syria and would not have done that if it wouldn't use it, Clapper said.

The Obama administration has refrained from setting up a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Syria partly because of the potential for direct military confrontation with Russia as U.S. planes sought to enforce the flying ban.

Clinton is not the only one who has called for such a zone, however. Trump's running mate, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence has also advocated such an approach.

But Trump said in an interview with Reuters on October 25 that it would inevitably lead to confrontation with Russia.

"You're going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton," Trump said.

"You're not fighting Syria any more, you're fighting Syria, Russia, and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk," he said.

Also on the topic of Russia, in the CBS interview, Clapper was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Obama administration's claim that recent hacking of U.S. Democratic sites and e-mail accounts was orchestrated by Moscow.

Clapper called Putin "somewhat of a throwback" to the "tsar era."

"I think he has this vision of a great Russia, as a great power," Clapper said. "It’s extremely important to him that Russia be treated and respected as a global power on a par with the United States. And I think that has a lot to do with impelling his behavior."

Clapper said the U.S. response to Russia's alleged hacking of the election might not come in the form of a reciprocal cyberattack, but he said eventually Russia will pay a price.

Clapper said Russia likely was not behind cyberattacks that paralyzed many top websites last week, however, including Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, and CNN.

He said the non-state hackers that carried out last week's attacks were even more "nefarious" than state actors like Russia and China.

"We've had this disparity or contrast between the capability of the most sophisticated cyber actors, nation-state cyber actors, which are clearly Russia and China, but have to this point perhaps more benign intent," he said.

"And then you have other countries who have a more nefarious intent. And then even more nefarious are non-nation-state actors," he said.

During the CBS interview, Clapper also declared that the longtime U.S. goal of getting North Korea to renounce nuclear weapons is "probably a lost cause" and the United States should now focus on limiting Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, CBS News, and AFP
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