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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. General Plays Down Russian Flyover Incident

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has dismissed the recent buzzing of a U.S. aircraft carrier by Russian planes, saying Washington does not view the incident as a threat.

"We do not view Russia as an adversary," General Henry Shelton said Tuesday after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, General Anatoly Kvashnin.

Russian officials claimed that the U.S. carrier Kitty Hawk was caught by surprise by flyovers Oct. 17 by Russian fighter jets in the Sea of Japan. The Pentagon insisted the U.S. ship had picked up the Russian planes on radar, but put the Kitty Hawk on higher alert after the incident.

"As there were no violations, it was a non-incident from our point of view," Shelton told reporters in the Russian Defense Ministry. "We don't need to have any kind of rhetoric associated with this kind of operations or exercises."

Russia, whose military has declined dramatically in size and funding since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, billed the Kitty Hawk incident as a sign of Russia's strengthening military. Pentagon officials played it down, calling it a throwback to the Cold War.

Commenting on increased Russian military training flights around the Chukotka peninsula, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, Shelton said, "That is within Russian sovereign territory. There have been no violations and therefore there is not a perceived threat."

Kvashnin played down any political significance to the Kitty Hawk case or the flights. "We are partners, not opponents. There is no politics here, just professional work," he said.

Shelton also reiterated U.S. opposition to Russia's plans to resume weapons sales to Iran. "It is an area of concern for us, as we could see it as an area that could be destabilizing in the region," he said.

The Russian government recently alarmed Washington by announcing it would no longer abide by a secret 1995 agreement between Vice President Albert Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Russian-Iranian arms trade. Gore had promised that Washington, which believes Iran sponsors terrorists, would not penalize Moscow for selling weapons to Iran through 1999.

Kvashnin shrugged off the U.S. concern. "We have no problems in this sphere. We will work only in the interest of the international community and in the interests of bilateral relations."

Tuesday's meeting was the first between Shelton and Kvashnin since the Russian general was in Washington in late 1998, shortly before the start of a four-day U.S.-British air attack on Iraq. Russian opposition to that attack, followed by tensions over U.S.-led NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia in 1999, put a damper on military relations.