Like many others who spend weeks or months trying to lose weight, I usually fail to reach my goal and then give up entirely.


No matter that I write about health care for a living or that I can recite the latest news on nutrition, health and well-being: I surrender and remain stuck. Knowing what to do – eat less, move more – is seldom motivation enough to do it.

The sense that I was a hostage to bad habits might explain why I was so intrigued when I heard about a workplace wellness game – A Step Ahead: Zombies – developed by Mike Tinney, chief executive of Fitness Interactive Experience (FIX). Wellness games, in which employees sign up for such challenges as counting their steps and changing their diets, seem to be popular and can be part of a larger push by businesses to promote healthful behavior. The jury is out, however, on whether these programs and incentives actually work.

Tinney had taken a leadership course from Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and he figured that the strategies Voss used to keep a hostage-taker talking could be applied in games to keep an exerciser moving.

As he crafted his zombies game, Tinney brought Voss in as a strategic adviser, hoping to find new ways to keep players engaged, motivated and on the move to more-healthful lifestyles. Voss was with the FBI for 24 years, retiring as its lead international hostage negotiator. He is now based in Los Angeles and is chief executive of the Black Swan Group, which helps people solve business-negotiation problems.

Tinney, whose company is located in Atlanta, was curious about Voss’ approach to behavior change.

“He had to quickly assess and categorize personalities and decision-making types of hostage-takers, and then, in simple and effective ways, communicate in a way that would increase their engagement and not shut them off or turn them away,” Tinney said. “It was similar to us [in game development]. We have some people who are excited about a challenge and others who are reluctant adopters, who are doing it because they get a benefit [from their employer] or a discount, but it’s not something they’d do on their own.”

I wanted to know what, exactly, could be learned from a hostage negotiator, whose world I imagined to be fast-paced and violent, without apparent relevance to corporate wellness.

The zombie game offers a playful spin on America’s fascination with the undead. (Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used zombie apocalypse themes in its programs on emergency preparedness.)

As in many corporate wellness programs, players join teams and report their daily progress in achieving fitness goals. But in Tinney’s game, reaching those targets has another purpose: to evade pursuing zombies. Teams that fall behind risk becoming zombies.

Neither hostage negotiators nor game developers, Voss said, can “push people into things, but [they can] help people discover what’s inside themselves to move in a specific direction. It is about sustainable negotiation.”

Voss said that game developers need to know “how people make decisions, how they’re comfortable, how they like to get information. Developers need to know how to encourage [players] in ways that promote a positive mind-set.”

For years, I’ve been an emotional eater. Anxious, lonely, tired? Bring on the ice cream and cookies, my emotions clamor, and never mind the calorie count or the sugar.

“Beating yourself up about your health – or even saying things like ‘I should do this because the opposite is bad’ – is punishing behavior that puts you in a negative frame of mind and makes it harder to make rational decisions,” Voss said. “As with hostage negotiation, the point of Fitness Interactive Experience is to put people in a positive frame of mind when it comes to their health by turning it into a game so they make good decisions.”

So Tinney’s game incorporates the tactic of continuous positive reinforcement – the idea is to push the hostage-taker to develop a sense of trust, a willingness to cooperate to achieve his own ends. In doing this he tapped into the notion of the zombie apocalypse. (The idea of a world in which the living dead take over seems to have grown with the popularity of the television show “The Walking Dead.”)

Keith Kantor, owner of Service Foods in Norcross, Ga., has tried the zombies games with his 100 employees, who prepare and deliver flash-frozen meals and other foods to people’s homes. A nutritionist, Kantor had long offered wellness programs: access to a dietitian, discounts on healthful food products, free gym memberships and more. About three-quarters of his staff participated.

“But when the gaming came in, that other 25 percent all got engaged,” he said. “They were more excited about doing exercises and running away from zombies than they were in hearing that over 40 percent of them would likely develop diabetes.”

Voss said that someone like me – with little time for myself – needs to replace bad habits with good ones “that build on what you enjoy doing and how it appeals to your identity.”

I began to see how my interior negotiations could take a turn for the better. The trick would be to replace the happiness that comes from eating chocolate with some similar benefit – such as clothes that fit – that can come from physical activity.

Mitesh Patel, on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, has studied making small changes as a way to improve health habits. Instead of aiming for targets that can be unrealistic – “I need to lose nearly 50 pounds,” for instance – Patel suggests making smaller changes that can become part of a daily routine.

He recommends a few basics, such as setting a goal. Without one, people won’t change.

“Small wins early on can support changes,” he said.

It’s helpful to involve a friend, because if you have agreed to take a walk with or to meet a buddy at the gym, you have an incentive to follow through. And don’t forget social media, he advises. Exchanging Facebook posts with others looking to get fit can offer the encouragement you need.

It’s so hard to change fitness habits, Voss said, because change involves loss. “When people have trouble changing, it’s because they’re focused on what they’re losing, and [they] need to substitute something that they’re going to gain. You can’t get rid of a bad habit or vision unless you add a positive habit or vision. One example is putting up pictures of fit people, which can become the vision of the gain you’re pursuing. You can ask yourself, ‘Have I given up on myself?’ Answering ‘no’ becomes a way to drive yourself forward and spur action.”

Do I really want to give up on myself? I’d like to enjoy the years ahead, and I know that physical activity is one way to ensure that I’ll feel better along the way. The other side of my internal negotiation has yet to find a way to dispute that.

— — —

Lynch Schuster is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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Doctors initially prescribed morphine, and when that stopped working they switched to a relatively new drug: OxyContin.


“It made her treatments bearable,” said Brown, who lives in Miami. “I knew it was a powerful drug. . . . But you have to weigh the circumstances. You have to deal with the situation you’re given.”

Doctors weaned Amanda off the potent narcotic after several months. Now 32, she has survived cancer, graduated from college and recently gotten married.

She is the sort of patient the Food and Drug Administration had in mind last month when it approved OxyContin, an extended-release form of the opioid painkiller oxycodone, for children as young as 11 who need “daily, round-the-clock, long-term” pain relief that can’t be treated adequately with other medications.

The decision was welcomed by some pediatricians and pain specialists, but also provoked fierce criticism. On social media, people accused the FDA of acting irresponsibly and putting the interests of OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, ahead of the welfare of children, who they worried would become addicted to the drug.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., whose state has been especially hard hit by the epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, wrote a scathing letter, telling the FDA it “should be absolutely ashamed of itself for this reckless act.” He warned that the decision could lead to “poisoning our children’s brains and setting them up for future drug abuse,” and called for a Senate investigation into the decision.

The FDA, in its defense, says its recent approval for 11- to 16-year-olds wasn’t intended to expand the use opioids in children, but rather to give doctors better guidelines about how to use OxyContin safely in pediatric patients. Doctors can already prescribe medications any way they see fit, and many physicians have long given OxyContin and other potent painkillers “off label” to children suffering from cancer, major surgeries or other trauma, the agency said.

Prior to the approval, the FDA asked Purdue to perform studies evaluating the safety and effectiveness of OxyContin in pediatric patients. Officials said the results supported the use of the drug in limited situations — such as intractable pain that couldn’t be treated effectively with less powerful painkillers.

“We understand there is a terrible problem with opioid abuse and addiction,” said Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “But this is about evidence-based medicine for children — seriously ill children who are suffering pain.”

Woodcock noted that nearly two decades ago, Congress created incentives for manufacturers to conduct more studies of drugs in children, in part so doctors would know when it is appropriate to give a medication to a child, how to properly dose pediatric patients and what side effects to expect. She said the effort has led to new labeling on 535 drugs to include pediatric indications, and OxyContin is merely one of the latest examples. The only other time-release opioid approved by the FDA for children is Duragesic, a patch that releases fentanyl.

The FDA’s reasoning has done little to mollify critics such as Andrew Kolodny, a New York psychiatrist and director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

Kolodny said the agency failed to sufficiently weigh the risk of addiction, which is greater in young brains that aren’t fully developed. And he says the new approval will lead to Purdue, the drug’s manufacturer, to market OxyContin more broadly.

“You’re talking about a privately held company where executives have faced criminal charges for the way they marketed OxyContin,” he said. “You’re giving a company with a very bad track record permission to market this drug for children. I think they’re going to take advantage of that.”

He said the agency should have convened a public advisory committee hearing to consider the issue, given the crisis involving the abuse of prescription painkillers. He said there are rare circumstances when giving opioids to children is warranted, but he said the FDA’s decision does nothing to expand access to those patients, given that doctors already are free to prescribe the drug in those situations.

Meanwhile, Purdue insists it has no plans to market the drug for a pediatric population. In a statement, the company said it “will not promote to pediatricians or other physicians the new pediatric safety and dosing information for OxyContin. This decision is based on our commitment to combatting the overuse, misuse and abuse of prescription opioids.”

In a separate letter to Manchin recently, Purdue’s chief medical officer, Gail Cawkwell, made a similar vow.

“We would like to assure you that Purdue will not promote to pediatricians or other physicians the new pediatric dosing and safety information for OxyContin,” Cawkwell wrote. “This company accepted responsibility for its past actions, and since that time Purdue has led our industry in the development of technologies and programs intended to combat the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs.”

Purdue and several of its then-current and former executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to falsely marketing OxyContin in a way that downplayed the drug’s risk of addiction and potential for abuse. The company and the executives paid roughly $635 million to resolve criminal and civil charges related to the misbranding.

Sharon Hertz, director of the FDA’s division of anesthesia, analgesia and addiction products, said the agency is requiring Purdue to conduct follow-up studies on how OxyContin is being used in young patients.

“What we will be watching for over time is whether the prescribing practices are changing, and if those changes are associated with undesirable outcomes,” she said.

Gary Walco, director of pain medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said he doesn’t see the FDA’s decision on OxyContin for children as inherently good or bad. Pediatricians and patients, he said, benefit from research on when and how to prescribe medications. “I am a firm believer in relying on data to drive clinical practice,” he said.

At the same time, Walco said, “We have learned from the adult world that opioids are often prescribed inappropriately. . . . It is critical that anyone prescribing this medication to children and adolescents be intimately familiar with the limitations of the data and the nuances of prescribing.”

District of Columbia resident Peter Brown — no relation to Amanda Brown — understands concerns that the FDA’s recent approval could worsen the epidemic of opioid abuse.But as a parent who saw his only child, Matthew, die at age 7 in 2009 after an excruciating bout with bone cancer, he also sees it as a necessary step. His son received OxyContin and several other painkillers after undergoing chemotherapy and a series of invasive surgeries to remove cancer from his limbs and his lungs.

“I understand the controversy,” said Brown, who along with his wife, Victoria, runs the locally based Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation. “Regulation is needed, and public safety is very important. . . . [But] when your child is in pain . . . it’s sort of a no-brainer to have this available.”

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That quirk of history has led to a showdown over the chairmanship of the Budget Committee that has caused a backlash among conservatives, who believe Enzi is unfairly laying claim to the powerful position at the behest of party leaders.


Sessions has been serving as the top Republican on the committee for the past four years and was in line to take the chairmanship after the GOP won control of the Senate earlier this month.

But since then Sessions has undercut party leaders with his strident opposition to President Obama’s immigration action, even raising the specter of another fiscal showdown that resembles previous confrontations with the White House. Party leaders are eager to fight back against the president, but in a more measured way in line with their desire to show that they are up to the task of governing.

That has provided an opening for Enzi, whose name-out-of-a-hat seniority gives him the standing to challenge Sessions and who is pitching himself as a less confrontational alternative.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other members of his team have publicly stayed out of the contest, but conservative activists nevertheless believe they are quietly backing Enzi because he would be a more reliable party man.

Gaston Mooney, a former aide to former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who often clashed with McConnell’s leadership team, wrote in an article last week in Conservative Review: “If Sessions loses the chair of the budget committee, it is only under the orders and direction of McConnell.”

Enzi’s advisers reject the idea that he’s making a run at the leadership’s bidding, instead stressing his own experience on fiscal matters such as health care. McConnell’s office issued a strong denial of playing any role.

“The only members who decide the chairman are the Republican members of the committee. The leadership plays no role,” Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

Sessions has spent his three terms in the Senate advancing a conservative agenda and has become one of the most reliable voices opposing Obama. He can be every bit as confrontational as his much better known colleague Ted Cruz, R-Texas, with the key difference that Sessions actually holds power and position within the Senate.

On immigration, Sessions has been the leading voice among Republicans who want to use the budget process to try to force Obama to back off his unilateral decision to offer protections to illegal immigrants.

Republicans who disagree with that strategy think that a better counter to Obama’s action would be to pass border security and other conservative immigration legislation and send it to the White House, rather than cutting off the budget and risking even a partial shutdown of government agencies.

Sessions now finds himself in the unusual position of trying to privately assure colleagues that he is not the flame-thrower that some suggest, and that he will not do or say anything to cause them political harm heading into the 2016 elections. After much criticism, he explicitly said last week that if push came to shove, he would not support shutting down the government.

“We should be cautious, we should be responsible. I’m going to tell you, that is exactly correct: We don’t need to shut this government down, we’re doing to fund the government,” he said.

Reluctant to criticize his old friend, Sessions is laying out his case of having done hard work over the past four years as the ranking member of the committee, and he’s ready to do the job on day one. “Look, Enzi can do the job. He’s got sound values. I just have given a lot of thought to it, and would like the opportunity to do it. We’ll keep talking, and our colleagues will ultimately get to decide,” he said.

The electorate for this race is tiny: The 10 or 12 Republicans who will be on the Budget Committee next year will vote, and whatever they decide will almost certainly be honored when the full Republican caucus weighs in.

Republicans have not had a contested battle for a top committee post since 1987, when Jesse Helms of North Carolina used seniority to trump Richard Lugar of Indiana for the leading spot on Foreign Relations.

Short in stature and possessing a quirky high-pitched southern drawl, Sessions, 67, is sometimes overlooked, but he’s rarely outhustled. He won a fourth term to the Senate three weeks ago without any opposition whatsoever, either in a primary or the general election.

The early focus for Sessions was the law, graduating from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1973. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to be the U.S. attorney for the state’s southern district, beginning an unusually long 12-year stint that spanned two GOP administrations.

His nomination for the federal district court in Alabama became a racially charged moment in 1986 amid accusations of mishandling a voter-fraud case against civil rights activists, and his ultimate rejection for the lifetime appointment set him on a political path.

In 1996 he won the Senate seat of Democrat Howell Heflin, whose vote against Sessions a decade earlier was pivotal to his nomination’s defeat. His focus for years was on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he defended the George W. Bush administration’s aggressive tactics to fight terrorists.

His first battle with his own party on immigration came during the Senate’s 2006 debate on bipartisan legislation that would have led to a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants — a bill the Bush White House backed but Sessions labeled “fatally flawed.”

By 2009, Sessions became the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, where he played the role of leading the attack against Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. Despite Sessions’s sharp conservatism, justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan won confirmation in a fairly amicable process.

Republican rules on term limits for top committee slots forced Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley out of another key post in 2011, and Grassley’s seniority trumped Sessions at Judiciary. Even though he wasn’t the most senior at Budget, other Republicans, including Enzi, had picked more prime committees, and the legal expert found himself serving as the top GOP senator on fiscal matters.

In the minority, Sessions did not hold nearly the same clout of his House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Budget chairman who became the ideological standard bearer for this decade’s fiscal conservatives.

Sessions was not a central negotiator in the four fiscal showdowns that Republicans had with Obama and Senate Democrats the past four years.

In fact, over the past two years, Sessions has made his biggest mark being the leading Republican opponent to immigration legislation, first on a bipartisan vote in 2013 and now on Obama’s executive action.

His confrontational style has scared some congressional Republicans, who want to avoid even talk of a possible government shutdown and argue that the 2016 GOP presidential nominee cannot alienate the Hispanic vote to have any chance at victory.

Enzi is no moderate, but he has worked with Democrats, including the late Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Max Baucus, D-Montana, the former senator who is now ambassador to Beijing. His head-down approach has not earned him praise in the tea-party era of confrontation, and for a brief time he drew a primary challenge from Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president.

Enzi fought back hard and eventually cruised to reelection. He has been setting up one-on-one meetings with members of the Budget panel in what is the most insidery of insider races in Washington.

“Jeff and I are talking,” Enzi said late last week, unclear whether the issue would go all the way to a rare vote on who gets the gavel. “I don’t know. We’ll keep working on it. We’re good friends.”

His public selling point has been that he holds a more senior post on the committee and that two years ago, when Republicans were still in the minority, he passed on asserting his seniority and allowed Sessions to maintain his perch.

However, that seniority is based entirely on the quirky GOP rules. A handful of Republicans won their first Senate term in 1996 without any prior experience as a governor or member of the House, so under party rules seniority was determined by drawing names from a hat.

Sessions was the last name drawn, and now he’s squaring off against his old friend in a race that has caused anxiety among their colleagues.

“I hope they work it out,” said Sen. Ronald Johnson, R-Wis., a member of the Budget Committee. “That would be best for everybody.”

Washington Post staff writer Robert Costa contributed to this report.

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Earlier this week, a grand jury ruled that the Cleveland police officers would not face criminal charges in the death of Tamir Rice.


The boy, who was 12, was playing with a toy gun near his home when he was shot by a police officer last November. Much has been written about the case in the in the 13 months since the story broke, but here’s a detail you might’ve missed. A consistent theme has emerged in the language used to describe Tamir’s appearance, the Washington Post noted on Monday: Tamir was “big for his age,” and, in his extra-large jacket and size-36 pants, he “could have easily passed for someone much older” than the 12-year-old child he was. 

Statements like these make a paper published by the American Psychological Association in 2014 seem eerily prescient in retrospect, as Post politics reporter Christopher Ingraham goes on to point out. That report — titled “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children” — surveyed real police officers in an attempt to measure hidden biases about black people, especially children. The results are striking.

Ingraham writes:

In one experiment, a group of 60 police officers from a large urban police force were asked to assess the age of white, black and Latino children based on photographs. The officers were randomly assigned to be told that the children in the photographs were accused of either a misdemeanor or felony charge. The officers overestimate the age of black felony-suspected children by close to five years, but they actually underestimated the age of white felony-suspected children by nearly a year.

That same report included a similar experiment, in which 264 college students — most of whom were white — were presented with descriptions of criminal activities, which were paired with pictures of the white, black or Latino boys who supposedly were responsible for those crimes. The students consistently overestimated the age of the black children by 4.5 years, suggesting that “in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old,” study co-author Matthew Jackson told the APA.

The study participants were also more likely to rate the black boys as less innocent than the white or Latino boys, “particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes,” according to the APA report. As study author Phillip Atiba Goff told the APA, the findings suggest that “black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.” 

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The bombardment was the first naval salvo of Russia’s week-old military intervention in Syria, where it has already launched more than 100 airstrikes against the Islamic State and factions of Islamist and U.


S.-backed rebel forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The attack showcased Russia’s advanced military capabilities and closer coordination with the governments of Iran and Iraq, whose airspace the missiles traversed before striking targets in Syria held by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Like Russia, Iran is a key backer of Assad. Iraq’s leadership has close ties with Iran but also depends on support from the United States and Western allies.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a nationally televised briefing that the ships launched 26 cruise missiles, destroying 11 targets and killing no civilians. He also said that Russian planes continued to carry out airstrikes Wednesday.

The naval strikes on Wednesday were the first known operational use of state-of-the-art SSN-30A Kalibr cruise missiles, which were still being tested by the Russian navy in August.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes spoke to the professionalism of Russia’s revamped military.

“We know how difficult it is to carry out this kind of anti-terrorist operation,” Putin told Shoigu. “Of course, it is early to draw conclusions. But what has been done so far deserves a highly positive assessment.”

The strikes came as Syrian troops backed by Russian air power launched their first major ground offensive since Moscow began its intervention in the conflict Sept. 30.

News reports and video of fighting uploaded to the Internet on Wednesday showed that the Syrian army was moving from the city of Hama toward Idlib, a stronghold held by a coalition of mostly Islamist rebels.

While the Kremlin’s stated aim in the conflict is to fight the Islamic State in Syria, the United States and its allies say Russia is concentrating its firepower against other rebel groups to prevent Assad from being overrun. One video on Wednesday appeared to show the Free Syrian Army, a moderate force backed by the West, firing antitank missiles at government troops advancing with Russian air support.

“Russia is targeting civilians and the Free Syrian Army brigades that are supported by America. They are not targeting the Islamic State as they claimed,” said Raed Fares, a Syrian activist in Idlib. “Russia is here to keep Assad in power, so they will strike what Assad strikes.”

In televised remarks on Wednesday, Putin encouraged the Free Syrian Army to join an alliance with Assad’s troops against the Islamic State. At the same time, he belittled the influence of moderate rebels on the conflict.

“True, we don’t currently know where it is and who is leading it,” Putin said of the Free Syrian Army.

Russian news reports Wednesday said Syrian forces launched a heavy artillery bombardment and were moving toward Idlib, but they added that it was not yet clear how far the Syrian troops had advanced.

The news reports also said Syrian troops used advanced rocket-launch systems similar to the ones that Western officials say Moscow shipped to Syria last week.

In a video posted to YouTube from the town of Kafranboudah, in the western part of the Hama countryside, a Syrian rebel commander said government forces began shelling his unit’s position on the front line early Wednesday. Kafranboudah is about 16 miles east of Latakia province, a Syrian regime stronghold. More than a dozen rebel groups formed a coalition to oust government forces from Hama in August.

Regime soldiers on Wednesday stormed the town from three sides with Russian air support, the rebel commander said, and the fighting has extended nearly 20 miles southeast to the town of Maan. He did not say whether his fighters suffered any losses but said Syrian rebels destroyed at least four regime tanks with antitank missiles.

The West, which has launched more than 7,000 airstrikes against the Islamic State in the past year, has bristled at Moscow’s military buildup in Syria. Russia has deployed surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets and radar-jamming equipment that officials say is meant to interfere with Western forces.

On Tuesday, U.S. and Russian officials tentatively agreed to resume talks on how to coordinate in the skies over Syria. Turkey, a NATO member that shares a border with Syria, has already accused Russia of violating its airspace.

In Rome, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter did not respond directly when asked by reporters about the Russian military’s apparent support for the Syrian government’s ground offensive.

But the Pentagon chief for the first time ruled out any cooperation with Moscow in the fight against the Islamic State, saying that Russia’s strategy was clearly just to support Assad and his government.

“We believe Russia has the wrong strategy. They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL. This is a fundamental mistake,” Carter said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.

In the past, the Obama administration has publicly held out hope – however faint – that Moscow might cooperate in the military campaign against the Islamic State.

In his most hard-line comments to date about Russia, Carter rejected the possibility of teaming up with the Russians in that regard. He said the Pentagon still wanted to talk with Moscow about finding ways to manage the crowded airspace above Syria and avoid any hostile or inadvertent encounters. “That’s it,” he said flatly.

There have been no reported close encounters or unsafe incidents involving U.S. and Russian warplanes so far in Syria, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

Russian aircraft have “come closer” to U.S. drones on at least one occasion, the official said, but it was not a dangerous incident.

“Certainly they are in similar battle space, so they see each other and they are aware of each other,” the official said of Russian and U.S. warplanes.

Pentagon officials have said the Russian intervention in Syria has not forced the U.S. military or its coalition partners to alter the rate or location of their surveillance missions and airstrikes against the Islamic State.

The two sides have jousted in recent days over the conditions for holding another round of talks. Washington wants to limit the discussion to technical factors about aviation safety, while Moscow has said it wants a broader conversation about possibly coordinating military operations – something the Pentagon steadfastly opposes.

A senior U.S. defense official said the Pentagon drafted a document last week for the Russians that lays out “basic rules of flight conduct,” such as what language and radio frequencies pilots would use in a hostile or inadvertent encounter.

The Russians have not responded to any of the particulars, the official said.

Cunningham reported from Beirut. Craig Whitlock in Rome, Hussam Alrefaie in Beirut, Heba Habib in Cairo, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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