Russia is striking same targets in Syria as US: Lavrov

Carole Landry
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Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to the media after a meeting concerning Syria with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 30, 2015

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to the media after a meeting concerning Syria with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Dominick Reuter)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Russia is striking the same Islamic State and Al-Nusra front targets in Syria as the United States, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, after reports its jets hit moderate rebels.

"We see eye to eye with the coalition on this one," Lavrov told a news conference at UN headquarters. "We have the same approach: it's ISIL, Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups."

Asked whether it was true that the United States and Russia were on the same page, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "Well, in concept, but we are not yet where we need to be."

Kerry, who met Lavrov at the United Nations on Wednesday, said US and Russian officials were still engaged in talks "to guarantee safety and security and division of responsibility."

Russia launched air attacks in war-torn Syria on Wednesday, striking areas held by opponents of Bashar Al-Assad's regime in the central provinces of Homs and Hama.

On Thursday, it pounded targets again in Hama and Idlib in the northwest.

The United States and France expressed doubts that Moscow was targeting the Islamic State group, but Lavrov insisted there was no disagreement with the US-led coalition on who to fight.

Kerry told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that Washington would have "grave concern" if it learned Russia had bombed Assad's opponents rather than IS extremists.

The Russian minister dismissed claims by US Senator John McCain that Russian warplanes hit US-backed rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Asked about the report, Lavrov said: "You state this as a fact. Do you know something that I don't?"

Lavrov declined to be drawn into questions about which specific groups were considered terrorists, but added that the US- and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army was not among them.

"If it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?" he asked rhetorically.

"We don't consider the Free Syrian Army a terrorist group. We believe that (the) Free Syrian Army should be part of the political process, like some other armed groups on the ground."

- No Russian strikes in Iraq -

Russia is not planning to expand its air campaign to neighboring Iraq, he added, stressing that there had been no such request from the Baghdad government.

"We were not invited, we were not asked, and we are polite people, as you know. We don't come if not invited," Lavrov said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would consider allowing Russia to carry out air strikes on the jihadists on Iraqi territory.

At the UN General Assembly, President Vladimir Putin used his speech this week to call for a broad coalition against IS jihadists that would include the Syrian army.

Russia has presented a draft UN resolution that would strengthen the fight against the Islamic State with the consent of Assad's regime.

The five-page draft resolution calls on "all states to participate to the extent possible in these efforts and to coordinate their activities with the consent of the states."

No vote has been scheduled on the draft resolution and it remained doubtful that the United States would back the measure.

"There are many resolutions which were initiated and have turned out to be unrealistic," Lavrov acknowledged.

"But I don't know. How can you dispute this very simple sentence: if a state is an object of terrorist threat, how can you leave this state aside from collective efforts?"

The United States and its allies have ruled out cooperation with Assad's regime, which they accuse of contributing to IS's rise by fomenting a civil war that has left more than 240,000 dead.