Former President Jimmy Carter said recently that he provided maps of Islamic State positions in Syria to the Russian embassy in Washington, a move apparently at odds with the Obama administration’s official policy of not cooperating with Russia in the Syrian war.
Carter said on Sunday in Georgia that he knows Russian President Vladimir Putin "fairly well" because they "have a common interest in fly fishing." When he met with Putin in April along with other global leaders to discuss the crises in Syria and Ukraine, the Russian president gave him an email address so the two could discuss his "fly fishing experiences, particularly in Russia," Carter said.
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The civil war in Syria, where U.S. officials say Russia has bombed rebels and CIA-backed groups rather than the Islamic State terrorist group, has also been a topic of conversation between the two. Carter said he sent maps of the Islamic State’s locations in Syria, produced by the Carter Center, to the Russian embassy so Moscow could improve the accuracy of its strikes.
"I sent [Putin] a message Thursday and asked him if he wanted a copy of our map so he could bomb accurately in Syria, and then on Friday, the Russian embassy in Atlanta—I mean in Washington, called down and told me they would like very much to have the map," Carter said at his Sunday school class in Georgia, according to a video of his remarks first aired by NBC News. "So in the future, if Russia doesn't bomb the right places, you'll know it's not Putin's fault but it's my fault," he added as the audience laughed.
Obama administration officials have publicly said the United States will not collaborate with Russia as long as it targets U.S.-backed rebels in an effort to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally of Moscow. The administration has said Assad must eventually step down as part of efforts to seek a political resolution to the Syrian war. "We are not prepared to cooperate on strategy which, as we explained, is flawed, tragically flawed, on the Russians’ part," said Ash Carter, U.S. defense secretary, earlier this month.
However, Carter appears to have reached out to Putin on his own initiative and urged him to find common ground with the United States by only targeting the Islamic State in Syria.
Cmdr. Elissa Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, declined to comment about whether the Pentagon was aware of Carter’s correspondence with Putin.
"I can't speak to whether anyone in the Pentagon was aware the Carter Center provided maps to the Russia Embassy," she said in an email.
The White House referred the Washington Free Beacon to the Carter Center, which did not respond to a request for comment. The Russian embassy also did not respond to a request for comment.
Carter has previously expressed support for Russia and its actions in Ukraine, where Moscow has supported separatists with weapons and troops against Ukrainian forces backed by the United States. After meeting with Putin earlier this year, Carter said Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine was "inevitable" and was what residents wanted—a stance that conflicts with most international observers who have said that Russia illegally invaded Crimea and held an illegitimate referendum.
He also said last year that the United States should not impose more sanctions on Russia and that he believed "Putin is not going to use military force" in eastern Ukraine. "I don’t think there is anything we can do that is going to deter Putin," he said at the time.
Russia is currently supporting Iran and its regional militias with airstrikes as the pro-Assad forces prepare an offensive on the major Syrian city of Aleppo. The Islamic State is reported to have benefited from the Russian strikes on rebels as the terrorist group moved in from the north to gain more territory.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that the United States had signed an agreement with Russia in an attempt to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace, where American planes are also bombing Islamic State positions.
Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement that the memorandum with Russia "does not establish zones of cooperation, intelligence sharing, or any sharing of target information in Syria" and does "not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia's policy or actions in Syria."