Tillerson in Moscow: U.S.-Russia relations ‘at a low point’



Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with officials in Moscow today, including Russian President Vladimir Putin for nearly two hours, to discuss a host of issues including Syria, Ukraine, and allegations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Tillerson said that the meeting would seek to “define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward.”

Tillerson discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the impact on Russia-U.S. relations of last week’s Tomahawk cruise missile strike made in response to the chemical attack that killed 89 Syrians, including many children, in Idlib. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov opened by accusing the U.S. of using “primitive and loutish” rhetoric and went on to emphasize that Russia finds it difficult to parse the specifics of U.S. policy.

“Apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken,” said Lavrov. Moscow continues to stand by the Assad government, maintaining that a rebel chemical gas supply had been hit inadvertently, or that the rebels faked the attack to gain international sympathy. On Russian television today, after the meeting, President Putin repeated denials that Assad’s government was to blame for the attack, adding that it may have been faked by Assad’s enemies.

This week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said there was “no doubt” the sarin gas attack was perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime. SecDef Mattis said it was clear the “Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it, and executed” the attack.

This has become the largest crisis in U.S.-Russian relations since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Lavrov assured that some progress had been made on the Syria issue and that a “working group” would be set up to “stabilize” and examine the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations. Lavrov also said that President Putin had agreed to reactivate a U.S.-Russian air safety agreement over Syria, aimed at preventing accidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft, which Moscow had suspended after the U.S. missile strikes. Tillerson and Lavrov agreed that an investigation into the gas attack should be conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international monitoring body.

At a news conference in Washington, President Trump commented, “Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time. But we’re going to see what happens.” President Putin, in his interview on Russian television stated, “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”

Little has been reported about any progress made concerning alleged Russian cyber interference in the 2016 Election, or Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine.



1706 ZULU APR12 2017


[Image: CNN]

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