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U.S., Russian military to enhance communication to avoid accidents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. and Russian military leaders have agreed at a meeting in Azerbaijan to enhance communication to avoid "unintended incidents," the Pentagon said on Thursday, in an apparent attempt to avoid encounters in the skies over Syria.

The United States and Russia already have a channel for avoiding each other in the crowded airspace over Syria. In 2015, they agreed to create a ground communication link and outline steps their pilots could take to avoid an inadvertent clash over Syria.

"The leaders further agreed to enhance communications on such stabilizing measures," the U.S. military said after the meeting between U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. While the statement did not specifically refer to Syria, it mentioned that efforts have been taken to improve operational safety and avoid accidents.

Despite the latest safety effort, U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary on Thursday ruled out fuller military collaboration with Russia now, in a blow to Moscow's hopes to mend ties with Washington after Trump's election.

It was perhaps the strongest indication yet from the Trump administration that prospects for any significant cooperation between the U.S. and Russian militaries against Islamic State in Syria is unlikely anytime soon.

The talks in Baku were the first face to face meeting between Dunford and Gerasimov, though they have spoken on the phone before.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the military chiefs also discussed relations between the countries and security in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Andrew Osborn in Moscow.; Editing by Alistair Bell)