Trump administration 'open' to joint-Syria strikes with Russia
The newly-inaugurated Trump administration said on Monday that it was open to coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military against Islamic State-group targets in Syria, a matter of hours after Russia claimed that Washington and Moscow had already worked together against the extremist group in Aleppo province.
In a statement published on Monday, the Russian Defence ministry said it had received coordinates of IS positions through a US-Russian communications channel, and that two aircrafts from the US-led coalition had joined Russian aircraft in recent aerial missions near the town of al-Bab in Aleppo region.
Turkish backed-rebels and members of Turkey's own military are currently conducting ground assaults against IS in al-Bab, with Moscow joining Ankara in conducting airstrikes against the extremist group last week, only a day after the US-lead coalition announced taking similar action in the area.
However, on Monday the Pentagon, now lead by Trump appointee James Mattis, denied that Washington had coordinated with Moscow.
"The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria," said spokesman Eric Pahon.
But, addressing reporters White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not rule out the possibility of future coordination with Moscow, stating that the Trump administration would potentially be willing to "work with any country that shares our interest in defeating ISIS” whether it be "Russia or anyone else".
Under the Obama administration US commanders established a joint hotline with Russian counterparts in order to create a channel of communication to avoid airspace congestion.
However Trump repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during his election victory over Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.
Coupled with his nomination of Exxon Mobil-CEO Rex Tillerson - who has received an order of friendship from Putin - as Secretary of State, and calls during his inaugural speech to "form new" alliances to fight "Islamic terrorism" this admiration has lead to widespread speculation that Trump will seek closer ties with Moscow.
Earlier this month US intelligence officials concluded that Moscow had ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee helping to influence Trump’s 2016 election victory raising concerns that Moscow had unforeseen influence in Washington.
Peace talks - brokered by Russia and Turkey - towards a resolution to the Syrian conflict began in the Kazakh capital Astana on Monday, with Washington not currently playing a central role in negotiations.