U.S. in talks with U.S. airlines about expiring Russia overflight deal

FILE PHOTO: A Delta jetliner (foreground) is de-iced while an American Airlines plane (rear) takes off at Reagan National Airport in Washington January 3, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department met with U.S. carriers ahead of a deadline later on Tuesday to extend an agreement with Russia that would allow for continued overflights by U.S. airlines and said it was working to prevent any disruptions.

The agreement between U.S. carriers and the Russian government expires at 7:59 p.m. (2359 GMT), State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a daily briefing.

"We don't want that kind of aviation disruption, so we're trying to facilitate a working arrangement," Nauert said, adding the Russian government had canceled a meeting in Washington earlier this week to discuss renewing the agreement.

"Russia has not yet indicated whether it will extend the approvals by the Russian government, but we are expecting a Russian response hopefully later today," she added.

In the interim, U.S. carrier were making plans to reroute their flights, she said.

A senior U.S. airline official said carriers "always prepare for every contingency, however confidence remains high that no operational disruptions will occur."

Nauert said the Russian government was not represented at Tuesday's meeting between State Department officials and U.S. commercial and cargo carriers. U.S diplomats in Moscow were in talks with the Russian government, she added.

A Russian Transport Ministry spokesman said Russia had sent a letter to U.S. aviation authorities asking to postpone the meeting because of organizational issues.

A Russian transportation source said that did not mean the flights would be stopped.

The discussions come amid tensions between Moscow and Washington after the United States, France and Britain launched missiles at Syria on Saturday aimed at curbing its chemical weapons programs.

It was the biggest intervention by Western countries against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his superpower ally, Russia.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, David Shepardson and David Alexander in Washington and Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow; Editing by Peter Cooney)