Russia must choose between Assad and US, Tillerson says

Until Trump ordered US missile strikes on a Syrian air base in response to the nerve gas attack that killed more than 80, the president had focused on defeating the Islamic State group and had shown no appetite for challenging Assad - and, by extension, his Russian supporter President Vladimir Putin. Putin said on Tuesday he believed Washington planned to launch more missile strikes, and that rebels were planning to stage chemical weapons attacks to provoke them.

Claims that the regime in Iraq in 2003 had weapons of mass destruction were never proven.

A meeting of the "likeminded" countries was hastily arranged on the sidelines of a Group of 7 industrialized economies in Italy, days after the US for the first time launched airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Western countries have blamed Syria for the attack that killed some 80 people, but the Syrian government and its Russian allies deny involvement.

Western countries have been calling for Assad to leave power since 2011, the start of a civil war that has killed at least 400,000 people and created the world's worst refugee crisis.

Tillerson is traveling Tuesday to Moscow.

The U.S. missile strike increased expectations that Trump would adopt a tougher stance with respect to Russian Federation, and engage more actively in world affairs instead of following the more isolationist position associated with some of his advisers.

The president's daughter recently began an official role at the White House. Tillerson said it is clear the US sees no role for Assad in Syria's future, given that he had lost legitimacy.

The visit also comes amid an FBI investigation into whether Russian Federation potentially colluded with Trump's campaign to influence the USA election.

At the White House Monday, spokesman Sean Spicer insisted not much had changed.

"We can't let this happen again". "Or Russia can maintain its alliance" with Syria and Iran.

Syria has always denied using barrel bombs, though their use has been widely recorded by United Nations investigators.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's snub of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a "pretty smart PR stunt for both sides", MSNBC host Joe Scarborough says. "Then you realize", she said on CNN.

Tillerson answered a question about effecting regime change by saying the US was organizing a coalition to do just that. He hoped that with Russia's influence in Syria, they could cooperate in fighting the Islamic State.

With tensions boiling, the newly-minted Secretary - who had never served in government or practiced global diplomacy prior to his confirmation - must avoid further escalating conflict with the Russian diplomat while still advocating for the U.S.'s agenda, experts said.

The U.S. official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn't have been a coincidence, and that Russian Federation must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he told Tillerson that Tokyo supports Washington in its push to "deter the spread and use of chemical weapons", and discussed the pressing North Korean nuclear threat.

"I hope that what the Russian government concludes is that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar al-Assad", Tillerson said Tuesday at a meeting of G-7 foreign ministers in Lucca, Italy, shortly before he left for Russia.

The United States blamed President Bashar Assad's government and launched almost 60 cruise missiles on Friday at the Shayrat air base in the central province of Homs, where it claims the attack originated.

Leading up to the USA missile attack, Trump's administration had said that Assad's future was up to the Syrian people. And while ISIS has used some chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, there's no evidence that this attack "involved chemicals in ISIS's possession", the White House says.

Such clarity on Assad's future isn't shared by Russian Federation, which insists that Syria's leadership can not be a matter for outside powers.

The other G-7 members - Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan and current president Italy - are also trying to grasp what the US administration's foreign policy is, amid conflicting signals from Washington.

The G7, which groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, has vowed to send a "clear and coordinated message" to Moscow through Tillerson, who will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The trip is the most sensitive to date for Tillerson.

  • Salvatore Jensen