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Moscow: Russian plane crash complicates Syria talks

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Posted at 8:11 AM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 09:48:56-05

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane near the Syrian border has not only frayed previously warm ties between Russia and Turkey, but has also put a strain on the peace talks for Syria, Russia's foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

Turkey shot down the Russian jet last week, insisting it violated its airspace despite numerous warnings and has said it will not apologize for the incident that killed one Russian pilot and a Russian serviceman trying to retrieve the other pilot.

Russia has claimed that Turkey shot down its plane to protect what he described as Turkish profiteering from the oil trade with the Islamic State group and has slapped a package of sanctions against Turkish products.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told The Associated Press the downing has not only caused a diplomatic rift but would also complicate peace talks for Syria that are taking place in Vienna.

Russia insists the talks cannot go ahead until all parties agree on which opposition groups should be covered by a possible cease-fire and which should be targeted by airstrikes.

Zakharova said Moscow was now more determined than ever to get other parties to agree on a list of "terrorist" groups in Syria before the next round of talks. Without that, Zakharova said, joint action in Syria would not be possible.

Aiming to head off the rift, President Barack Obama, urged Turkey and Russia on Tuesday to set aside their tensions and focus on the common priority of defeating the Islamic State group.

In a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris, Obama vouched for the NATO ally's right to self-defense, and he pledged a solid U.S. commitment "to Turkey's security and its sovereignty." Yet he emphasized the need for Turkey and Russia to "de-escalate" their conflict and not get distracted from the campaign against IS and efforts to resolve Syria's civil war.

"We all have a common enemy. That is ISIL," Obama said, using one of several acronyms for the extremist group. "I want to make sure that we focus on that threat."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday accused Russia of trying to "cover up" its infringement of Turkey's airspace with "unfounded" claims that Turkey is illegally importing oil from IS.

Erdogan has said he is prepared to step down if Russia can prove the oil claims and has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the same if he can't prove them.

"It is not possible to cover up the violation of the Turkish airspace with unfounded accusations against Turkey," Davutoglu said.

Davutoglu also renewed a call for Russia to keep military and diplomatic channels for dialogue open, insisting that Russia's stance was turning the Syria crisis into a "crisis between Russia and Turkey."

Zakharova said Russia had intelligence about Turkey buying oil from the IS group a while ago but preferred not to publicize it.

"We had this information before and we were working with our partners, with Turkey, with the coalition, with our Western colleagues on this matter but we didn't do it publicly," she said. "We tried many times to convince them to change their approach to this matter, to their relationship with various organizations."

In the latest episode of the spat, the Russian education ministry said it would repatriate "as soon as possible" Turkish students in Russia on exchange programs. It also announced that nearly 50 Russian universities were suspending their cooperation agreements with Turkish counterparts.