Nevenov, AFP | Prior to meeting Vladimir
Putin, Rex Tiller-son (pictured left) held
tense talks with his Russian counterpart,
Sergei Lavrov (right).
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said
relations with Russia were “at a low level
of trust” and must improve after holding
talks on the Syrian crisis with Russian
President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on
Tillerson’s Kremlin visit came as the two
countries traded sharp accusations about a
chemical weapons attack in Syria last week
that led to US retaliatory cruise missiles.
Tillerson reiterated the US position that
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must
eventually relinquish power in Syria, a
position starkly at odds with Russia.
"There is a low level of trust between
our two countries," Tillerson said. "The
world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot
have this kind of relationship."
'Low level of trust between our two
The meeting between the US secretary of
state and Putin was steeped in geopolitical
intrigue, with neither country saying ahead
of time if it would take place or not.
It followed tense talks between Tillerson
and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov,
who accused President Donald Trump’s
administration of carrying out an unlawful
attack against Assad's forces.
Giving Tillerson a chilly reception,
Lavrov said Russia was trying to understand
the "real in-tentions" of the Trump
administration, which he accused of being
“very ambiguous” and “contradictory” on the
After the talks, Russia’s top diplomat
said there were “considerable prospects for
joint work” between the two countries, most
notably in the fight against terrorism.
He said Moscow was ready to resume a deal
with Washington to avoid incidents in Syrian
airspace as the two countries lead separate
'Russia is open to dialogue'
"Today the president confirmed our
readiness to return to its implementation on
the under-standing that the original aims of
the air forces of the American coalition are
reaffirmed, namely the fight against IS [the
Islamic State group] and al-Nusra," Lavrov
said, referring to the former al Qaeda
affiliate in Syria.
The deal between Moscow and Washington
was suspended after the US missile strikes
or-dered by Trump in response to the
suspected chemical attack.
Assad ‘a truly evil person’
Trump, meanwhile, told Fox Business News
that the US had no plans to become more
deeply involved in Syria, saying he only
struck Assad because of last week’s deadly
"Are we going to get involved with Syria?
No," Trump said in the interview, which
aired Wednesday in the US. "But if I see
them using gas... we have to do something."
The palpable tension hanging over
Tillerson's trip highlighted a widening
chasm between the former Cold War foes.
Only weeks ago, it appeared that Trump,
who lavishly praised Putin throughout the
campaign, was poised for a potentially
historic rapprochement with Russia. But
expectations of an easy rapport have crashed
"Frankly, Putin is backing a person
that's truly an evil person," Trump said,
referring to Assad. "I think it's very bad
for Russia. I think it's very bad for
Trump’s Syria strike stuns allies,
Of Assad, Trump added: "This is an
Meanwhile, Putin – who has been accused
of interfering in the US presidential
election won by Trump – said relations with
the US had only gone downhill since Trump
took office in January.
"The level of trust at the working level,
especially at the military level, has not
become better but most likely has degraded,"
Putin said in an interview broadcast
Wednesday by state tele-vision channel Mir.
Moscow has strenuously objected to
Trump's decision to launch 59 US Tomahawk
missiles at a Syrian air base that
Washington says was used to pummel civilians
with nerve gas, resulting in 87 deaths.
Russia, Assad's staunchest ally, has
insisted that Assad is blameless and that it
was actually the rebels responsible for the
disbursed chemical weapons – a claim
rejected by Western in-telligence agencies.
The health minister in Turkey, which
treated many of the attack's victims and
conducted au-topsies on others, said Tuesday
that test results conducted on victims
confirmed sarin gas was used.