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US, Russia turn to direct military talks over Syria airspace grievances

US and Russian defense officials are "closer" to hashing out "safety procedures" as both countries fly sorties over Syria. The talks come amid reports that Iran is deploying troops, the latest in the Syrian conflict.

Defense officials from the US and Russia held military-to-military talks on Wednesday in a bid to

establish "basic safety procedures" over Syria.

"Positions became closer on key provisions of the future document," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement, referring to a potential agreement on how to operate in Syrian airspace.

Both the US and Russia are flying combat missions over Syria, the first time since World War II that Moscow and Washington engage in aerial military maneuvers over the same country.

"Even as we continue to disagree on Syria policy, we should be able to at least agree on making sure our airmen are as safe as possible," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at a press briefing Tuesday, following talks with his Australian counterpart.

Russia's entrance into the Syrian conflict this September raised concerns from the international community on Moscow's intentions, with several Western officials describing the move as a ploy to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

'Dangerous right?'

US and Kremlin officials announced on Wednesday that a Russian aircraft approached an American warplane over Syrian airspace in order to visually identify an "unidentified aircraft."

"Visual identification took place. All pilots conducted themselves appropriately and everyone went about their business," Warren said.

"But this is dangerous right?...There's always going to be some risk if there are uncoordinated actors in the battle space," Warren added.

Infographic on Russia's military presence in Syria

Iran deploys troops

Meanwhile, Iran has sent hundreds of troops to participate in an upcoming mass

ground offensive by the Syrian army,

according to

rebel groups

and regional officials in Syria.

"Sending more troops from Hezbollah and Iran only increases the shelf life of the Syrian regime, which is destined to end," Major Jamil Salef of the Tajammu Alezzah, a Free Syrian Army faction backed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), told AP news agency.

"It will only add more destruction and displacement," Salef added.

The Syrian conflict has displaced millions and left more than 250,000 people dead since it erupted in 2011, following a government crackdown on people protesting President Assad's regime.

ls/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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