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US and Russia agree to boost military communications: Pentagon

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WASHINGTON (AFP): The US and Russian militaries agreed to "enhance communications" after a meeting between their top commanders in Azerbaijan on Thursday, the Pentagon said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford and his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov discussed military relations between the two countries as well as security in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere during their meeting in the capital Baku.

The two sides "have undertaken efforts to improve operational safety of military activities in order to decrease the prospects for crisis and avoid the risk of unintended incidents," the Pentagon said in a statement. "The leaders further agreed to enhance communications on such stabilizing measures."

The United States and Russia already maintain a permanent military communications line over their air operations in Syria to avoid incidents between their aircraft.

The last face-to-face meeting between the two highest US and Russian military officers took place in January 2014 between Gerasimov and Dunford's predecessor Martin Dempsey.

The Baku meeting comes amid widespread speculation about the future of US-Russian relations following US President Donald Trump's election.

He has said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, prompting concern among many US officials who view Russia as the main threat to US national security, amid a mounting scandal over ties between the Trump team's ties to Russia going back to his presidential campaign.

At a meeting of G20 ministers in the German city of Bonn on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington would conditionally consider working with Moscow in some areas, calling on Russia to honor the Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending hostilities in Ukraine.

In Brussels today, US Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected a Russian call to immediately restore cooperation with the Russian military.

"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward," he told reporters.

Washington suspended all military cooperation with Moscow following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

But their military leaders have continued to maintain direct contact by phone and video conferences, the Pentagon said.

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