In what would constitute a significant shift in U.S. policy, President Donald Trump is open to coordinating with Russia on military operations against the Islamic State terror group in Syria, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.
“If there is a way we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that — sure, we’ll take it,” Spicer said at the first daily press briefing of the Trump administration.
His remarks follow a Russian claim that the U.S. and its former Cold War adversary conducted a joint military operation in Syria. The Pentagon denied the report.
“The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria,” Marine Maj. Adrian J. T. Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday in an email statement to Morning Consult. “DoD maintains a channel of communication with the Russian military focused solely on ensuring the safety of aircrews and de-confliction of Coalition and Russian operations in Syria.”
Spicer’s remarks indicate that Trump, on his third full day in office, is committed to overhauling U.S. policy toward Russia. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. supported moderate Syrian rebels against the Russia-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has been accused of committing war crimes.
Spicer said Trump would only be open to military partnerships with countries that have “America’s interest.”
Democrats and Republicans alike have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria. One skeptical Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, pressed the issue during a confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee to lead the State Department. Rubio was unsatisfied with Tillerson’s refusal to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, although Rubio announced Monday that he would nonetheless support the former ExxonMobil chief executive’s nomination for secretary of state.