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Dempsey and Hagel Call Russian Missiles to Syria 'Ill-Timed,' 'Unfortunate'

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At their joint news conference Friday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey addressed the reports of new Russian missile sales to Syria.  Dempsey called it “ill-timed” and an "unfortunate decision."  Hagel agreed with Dempsey with regards to missiles “and whatever else is involved with the Russians does not help. It makes it more dangerous.”

Hagel said Secretary of State John Kerry had traveled to Moscow a few weeks ago to work out issues with Russia regarding Syria, including arms sales.  He said the U.S. is trying to "convince the powers that are involved in the region to be careful with escalation of military options and equipment.”

“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 for Syria to erupt to the point where we may well find a regional war in the Middle East," Hagel said Friday.

“The escalation of weaponry in the Middle East is dangerous,” Hagel continued, “and we are working with our partners in that area as well as other countries to make sure that whatever influence we have, that that doesn't continue."

Dempsey was blunt in calling the new anti-ship missile reports “at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering. So it's ill-timed and very unfortunate.”

Later during Friday's briefing, Dempsey was asked about the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia is planning to sell to Syria. He warned that their arrival might embolden Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a miscalculation.

“The S-300, for example -- higher altitude, longer range, multiple tracking capability. It pushes the standoff distance a little more, increases risk but not impossible to overcome. What I really worry about is that Assad will decide that since he's got these systems, he's somehow safer and more prone to a miscalculation. So, you know, again, an unfortunate decision.”

Dempsey emphasized that Russia doesn’t have these weapons and that there are no military plans to prevent their delivery to Syria.

Hagel added there had still been no decision on whether to provide lethal aid to Syrian rebels.

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