The United States has expressed disapproval at Moscow for sending a missile shipment to the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering a plea to allow aid into the country.
Top US military official General Martin Dempsey said on Friday that Moscow's most recent delivery of anti-ship missiles was "ill-timed and very unfortunate."
Russia's decision to allow the arms consignment, Dempsey added, risked protracting the civil war within Syria.
"It's at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering," Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
The Yakhont missiles, which were recently delivered by Moscow, have advanced radar. That makes them more effective against ships, the New York Times reported Friday, quoting US government sources familiar with classified intelligence reports.
Anti-ship missile systems could be employed to counter any effort by international forces to assist Syrian rebels, including a naval blockade, no-fly zone or limited airstrikes, the newspaper added.
"What I really worry about is that [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad will decide that since he's got these systems, he's somehow safer and more prone to a miscalculation," Dempsey told reporters.
The US had no means of preventing shipments of military sales being delivered to Syria, he stressed.
A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin would not comment on allegations by the US that Moscow had sent Yakhont missiles. But he did say that Russia would honor contracts to supply Syria with missiles, something which it has been doing since the Cold War.
Finding common ground
At the same press conference, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the main reason for US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent trip to Russia was to meet with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the crisis in Syria.
The US, Hagel said, "made it crystal clear" that it disapproves of Russia supplying assistance to the regime through its recent arms shipment. The delivery, he added, has made the situation in Syria even more dangerous.
"What's happening there, everybody knows, is very, very dangerous. And what we don't want to see happen, the Russians don't want to see happen, is Syria to erupt to the point where we may well find a regional war in the Middle East," Hagel said.
The disclosure of the arms delivery comes as Moscow and the US are arranging an international conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict.
UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon met with Putin on Friday, telling him the meeting should occur as soon as possible.
France said on Friday it would be opposed to any meeting if Assad's regional ally Iran were invited to take part. But Moscow is of the opinion that Tehran should take part in the talks.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering a plea from UN aid officials to demand cross-border aid access to Syria. The move, UN diplomats said Friday, could lead to a showdown between permanent Security Council member and Syrian ally Russia and western states over humanitarian cross-border deliveries.
"The key element [of a humanitarian resolution] would be insisting on cross-border access," a senior Security Council diplomat said.
The United Nations says the 26-month conflict has killed more than 80,000 Syrians and has seen more than 1.5 million people flee the country.
jlw/slk (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)