A top Russian official on Thursday played down criticism over the country's airstrikes in Syria, saying Russia sees "eye-to-eye" with a U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State terror group.
At the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow had targeted "depots and sites" of ISIS, adding the country would only strike terrorist groups. He noted that military talks with the United States would take place "very, very soon."
Just hours after the Russian parliament waved through military intervention in Syria, its first airstrikes in the civil war-torn Middle Eastern country were confirmed Wednesday night. On Thursday, there were further strikes on rebel positions in the northwest, Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV reported. This came after tense discussions this week between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the best course of action in Syria.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Russian involvement risks making the Syrian conflict "indefinite" and has forced the U.S. to re-evaluate its strategy there. It added the U.S. and Russia held the first in a series of talks on "deconflicting" aircraft operations and military communications.
"Russia will have to pay the costs" of its strikes in Syria, Earnest said, adding that the White House would not rule out formal diplomatic action. He said the White House perceives the country has not fully made distinctions between terrorists and opposition groups.
Russia argues that it is just leading the charge in an international coalition against the Islamic State — much like Stalin allied with the Western powers to fight Hitler. But Western diplomats said Wednesday that the first targets were in parts of Syria far from ISIS strongholds, including a U.S.-backed rebel group called Tajammu al-Izzah.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday said the Kremlin had poured "gasoline on the fire" of the volatile situation in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman said Thursday that Russia aims to help Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces fight extremist groups where the government is "weak."
The White House argued, though, that Russia would contribute to the U.S.-led coalition if it genuinely wanted to fight ISIS.
Lavrov stressed that Russia does not consider the Western-backed Free Syrian Army a terrorist group. He said that "we consider terrorists those who have been recognized as such by the U.N. and Russia's legal system."
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Speaking to reporters, Lavrov declined to comment directly on reports of a planned Iranian and Syrian ground offensive against rebels. Earnest said he could not confirm the reports, but contended that, if true, they showed that Russian airstrikes had heightened the conflict.
Lavrov noted the Russian air force is working with the Syrian army to hit ISIS and other terrorist positions. Lavrov added that Russia had not been "invited" to carry out strikes against ISIS in Iraq.
— CNBC's Catherine Boyle, AP and Reuters contributed to this report