Pentagon grudgingly accepts Syria deal amid deep mistrust of Russia

The Washington Post reports: Hours after reaching an agreement on Syria last Friday with Secretary of State John F. Kerry and clearing the final deal with Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wandered the halls of their meeting venue in Geneva, waiting for Kerry to get the okay from Washington.

In a secure room upstairs, a frustrated Kerry was on hold. Already deep into a conference call with President Obama’s top national security team, he was waiting for the Defense Department to locate its legal counsel to sign off on one of the many provisions of the accord that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was questioning.

“I hope before Washington gets some sleep, we can get some news,” Lavrov said as he offered pizza and vodka to reporters awaiting an announcement. Clearly on a propaganda roll, he observed that the wheels of government appeared to turn more efficiently in his country than in the United States.

Obama, who did not attend the principals’ meeting, ultimately approved the agreement and a news conference was held at midnight, Geneva time.

But beneath the politics and diplomacy of the deal — which began with a cease-fire Monday, to be followed, if it succeeds, by coordinated U.S.-Russian counterterrorism airstrikes — the prospect of military-to-military cooperation does not sit well with the Defense Department.

“There is a trust deficit with the Russians; it is not clear to us what their objectives are,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday. “They say one thing, and we don’t necessarily see them following up on this.”

That mistrust resides most deeply in Carter, who officials familiar with the Russia negotiations said almost single-handedly delayed Friday’s final agreement with his repeated questions during the conference call. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced little objection during the principals’ meeting, officials said. [Continue reading…]

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