05 October 2015
by John Kerin

Julie Bishop concedes Syria air clash risk with Russia

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop conceded having Russian and Allied warplanes operating over war-torn Syria raises the risk of a clash, but insisted Moscow and Washington are holding high-level talks to avoid confrontation.

Ms Bishop was commenting on the dangers of a miscalculation as Russia entered another day of bombing raids to prop up the Assad government while Coalition forces continued to target Islamic State positions.

"There is a potential for miscalculation, misjudgment," she told the ABC. "That's why it's so necessary for the Pentagon to be co-ordinating efforts with the Russian military, and I know there are discussions going on at the highest level to ensure there is no miscalculation or misjudgment, but the situation is very complicated now, very complex."

The Australian Defence Force on Friday issued a statement that RAAF warplanes would continue to operate in Syria and "continual assessments were made of the threat environment".

RAAF F/A-18s are believed to be operating only in eastern Syria while US warplanes are operating widely across the country.

Some reports said the US was given as little as one hour's warning that the Russian bombing raids would begin in Syria in Homs on Wednesday.

Russia warned US fighters to leave Syrian airspace ahead of the strikes but the US did not accede, raising the threat of clashes where the two air forces operations overlap.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for urgent talks to avoid the risks of confrontation, while vowing that the Coalition would step up its own bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria.

US officials have said Russian airstrikes would be counterproductive if they target Assad's adversaries, including opposition forces, fuelling resentment and strengthening Islamic State.

In a joint statement issued at the weekend, a coalition of the United States, Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar and Saudi Arabia accused Russia of attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians instead of fighting Islamic State.

Russia insists it is targeting the military group and its de-facto capital Raqqa.

The White House confirmed over the weekend that US President Barack Obama had spoken to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ,with the two agreeing to continue to closely co-ordinate their actions in Iraq and Syria.

'Assad is there'
Ms Bishop conceded on Sunday that Russia's bombing raids in support of Bashar al-Assad's regime meant any political solution had to include Assad, even if only to achieve a "transition phase" – "whereas previously there was a view that any precondition to peace discussions had to be removal of Assad".

"It's entirely unpalatable but the reality is, Assad is there ... he now has Russian backing quite overtly." Ms Bishop said.

"So the dynamics around the [negotiating table] will be very different, but it must be done. There must be a political solution otherwise we will continue to see the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding."