Putin, Obama agree to enhance coordination on Syria: Kremlin

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed on Monday to continue building closer coordination on Syria, including through their intelligence services and defense ministries, the Kremlin said.

The White House said Obama and Putin had an “intense conversation” by telephone that covered both Syria and Ukraine.

During the call, the Kremlin said Putin stressed the need for the moderate opposition to distance itself swiftly from Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. He also stressed the need to close Syria’s border with Turkey, “from where fighters and arms supplies for the extremists make their way in”, the Kremlin said.

Russia has repeatedly raised the issue of the border, across which, according to Russia, militants are crossing from Turkey into Syria.

Obama stressed that progress on Syria needed to be made “in parallel” to progress on political transition to end the conflict there, the White House said in a release. Syrian peace talks came close to collapse on Monday, with the mainstream opposition announcing a pause in talks being held in Geneva.

The Kremlin said Obama thanked Putin for Russia’s help in freeing American citizen Kevin Dawes, who had been in captivity in Syria. The U.S. State Department had said previously Russia played a role in his release.

The two presidents also exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine, with Putin expressing the hope that with the new Ukrainian government “will finally start taking concrete steps towards implementing the Minsk agreements”, the Kremlin said.

Obama urged Putin to take steps to end the significant uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressed the importance of moving forward with full implementation of the agreements, the White House said in a release.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a daily press conference that the two presidents did not talk about the two Russian warplanes that the U.S. military said last week flew simulated attack passes near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea.

Reporting by Polina Devitt and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and Tom Brown