U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he expects an agreement "in very short order" with Russia on air safety above Syria to avoid a potential mid-air disaster between U.S. and Russian jets.
Russian and U.S. pilots carrying out separate airstrike missions in Syria came within 16 kilometers of each other last week, the Pentagon said Tuesday. That was close enough for the pilots to clearly read the numbers on each other planes.
"Even as we continue to disagree on Syria policy, we should be able to at least agree on making sure that airman are as safe as possible," Carter said at a news conference in Boston Tuesday. "Russia must act professionally in the skies over Syria and abide by basic safety procedures."
Later, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Department of Defense officials will be holding a third secure video conference on Wednesday with officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense. The focus of these discussions is on specific safety protocols for aircrews flying over Syria.
Carter said the U.S. mission to bomb Islamic State targets in Syria will not change, but he urged the Russians to give up what he called their "failing strategy," saying it is "wrongheaded and strategically shortsighted."
Russian embassy hit
Russia said on Tuesday that it had hit 86 "terrorist" targets in the previous 24 hours, according to the French News agency, AFP - the highest one-day tally since Russia began bombing at the end of September.
Also Tuesday, militants fired rockets at Russia's embassy in Damascus in what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called an "act or terror" meant to intimidate those who support the fight against Islamic State.
A Syrian man holds portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Valdimir Putin, as several hundred people gathered near the Russian Embassy in Damascus to express their support for Moscow's air war in Syria, Oct. 13, 2015.
Two rockets struck the embassy compound while hundreds of people rallied outside in support of Russia. There is no word on damage or casualties.
The attack is not the only backlash against Russia. Russian security officials said Monday they had arrested several people plotting to target the Moscow transportation system who had ties to the Islamic State group.
'Eye for an eye'
An Islamic State spokesman posted an online message Tuesday "calling on Muslims everywhere" to launch a jihad against Russia and the U.S. "Russia will be defeated," IS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said in a recording posted on line.
Also, in an audio recording released Monday, Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, the head of Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, urged militants in the Caucasus to counter Moscow's air campaign by targeting Russians.
"If the Russian army kills the people of Syria, then kill their people. And if they kill our soldiers, then kill their soldiers. An eye for an eye," al-Jolani said.
Meanwhile, U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura held talks in Russia on Tuesday as part of an effort to forge an understanding between Russian and U.S. officials and move toward a political process to end the Syrian conflict.
Moscow and Washington are at odds over the roles each country is playing in Syria. Wednesday, De Mistura plans to fly to Washington for talks there as well.
State Department Correspondent Pam Dockins contributed to this report.