Russian FM Disputes Kerry’s Claim That Russia Has Agreed to Share ISIS Intelligence

By Patrick Goodenough | October 28, 2014 | 4:24am EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva in September 2013. (AP Photo, File)

( – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is disputing claims by Secretary of State John Kerry that the two recently agreed to step up intelligence cooperation in the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

Not only had there not been an agreement to do so, Lavrov told a Russian television station at the weekend, but he had also linked that stance to the suspension earlier this year of the U.S.-Russia bilateral presidential commission.

One of commission’s 21 working groups dealt with counterterrorism, but the Obama administration froze the initiative amid tensions over Ukraine.

The administration’s attempts to build as broad as possible a coalition to confront ISIS featured prominently in their talks when Kerry and Lavrov met in Paris on October 14.

Afterwards, Kerry told reporters, “I suggested to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we intensify intelligence cooperation with respect to ISIL and other counterterrorism challenges of the region, and we agreed to do so.”

“We also agreed to explore whether Russia could do more to support Iraqi security forces,” Kerry added, “and the foreign minister indeed acknowledged their preparedness to help with respect to arms, weapons – they are doing that now and they already have provided some – and also potentially with the training and advising aspects.”

Not so on both counts, Lavrov told state-owned Rossiya-1 television.

“We did not agree to exchange information within the framework of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, and neither did we agree that Russia would send its instructors to train the Iraqi army.”

Russia says it is not part of the U.S-led coalition against ISIS, largely because it objects to a key component of the coalition’s mission – training and arming the Syrian opposition. While those rebels are fighting ISIS, their main target is the Assad regime, an ally of Moscow and the recipient of Russian weaponry.

Lavrov recalled that he and Kerry had discussed “fighting terrorists and the situation in the Middle East. Mr. Kerry said we should cooperate in the fight against the Islamic State. I replied that Russia is always ready for cooperation against terrorism, that it is actively helping the region’s countries, including strengthening their combat ability so that they can repel terrorists and extremists.”

But Lavrov also said he had drawn Kerry’s attention to the implications of the suspension of the bilateral presidential commission.

“I told Mr. Kerry that we used to have a bilateral presidential commission that included a working group on counterterrorism,” he said. “It was a dialogue channel open to security services, the military, and diplomats. But the presidential commission and that working group were closed down.”

Lavrov said the U.S. and Russia had in the past “exchanged intelligence data within the framework of the bilateral presidential commission.” He had told Kerry that if the U.S. government “wanted to cooperate, we should not do this selectively but within the framework of agreed to-mechanisms.”

‘Main vehicle’ for counterterror cooperation

The bilateral presidential commission was established in July 2009 as a key component of the administration’s “reset” with Russia. In a 2013 newsletter on the commission’s work, the State Department called its counterterrorism working group “the main vehicle for our bilateral counterterrorism (CT) cooperation.”

Last March, however, as relations soured over Russian support for Ukrainian separatists and its annexation of Crimea, the State Department announced a freeze in the cooperation.

“In response to recent events, the United States has temporarily suspended several projects planned under the auspices of the U.S.-Russia bilateral presidential commission as well as some cooperative law enforcement activities,” it stated at the time.

“Funding for these activities will instead be used to contribute to a package of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, following consultation with Congress, which will support economic reform and address other pressing needs, including combatting corruption and recovering stolen assets.”

After his talks with Lavrov in Paris, Kerry defended the decision to meet despite differences over Ukraine, saying there were important areas where the two countries could cooperate, including the campaign against ISIS. Kerry said the discussions had been “constructive.”

In the Rossiya-1 interview, Lavrov linked the suspension of the bilateral cooperation not to Ukraine but to earlier tensions between the two governments, over Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Edward Snowden after the former NSA contractor exposed U.S. surveillance operations around the world last year.

He said the cooperation freeze “happened long before sanctions [over Ukraine], after Edward Snowden was stranded in Russia, when the ungrounded feeling of resentment rose above common sense in Washington.”

The most visible sign of U.S. unhappiness with Russia at the time was President Obama’s decision to cancel a planned one-on-one meeting with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg last fall.

At the time the White House linked the decision to Snowden’s asylum as well as a lack of progress with Moscow in the areas of missile defense and arms control.

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