WASHINGTON (AP) — The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Thursday he has received no new guidance from the Pentagon on cooperating with Russia in Syria following a U.S.-Russia summit that Moscow says focused heavily on Syria.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters he’s taking a “steady-as-she-goes” approach in Syria in the absence of new instructions. He said the mission remains to defeat the Islamic State group.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump discussed Syria and other topics with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, that it is ready to implement what it called agreements on increased cooperation with the U.S. military in Syria.
Trump said in his joint news conference with Putin in Helsinki that they discussed Syria “at length,” but he was vague about the outcome.
“We have received no further direction than we’ve currently been operating under,” Votel said, speaking by video-teleconference from his headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
He added that U.S. legal restrictions imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 provide no room for military-to-military coordination or collaboration with Russia.
“Any space would have to be created by Congress,” or lawmakers would have to grant Central Command a waiver “to allow us to do something like that,” he said.
U.S. forces in Syria are advising and assisting local Syria fighters to oust IS remnants.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has given no public indication since the Helsinki summit of plans to work more closely with the Russian military in Syria.