Tillerson: US-Russia relations 'at low point'

Unlike he has done with previous secretaries of state, Putin didn't keep Tillerson waiting for hours on Wednesday. "The world's two foremost nuclear powers can not have this kind of relationship", Tillerson said.

Putin has said that Russian Federation will appeal to the United Nations to investigate the chemical attack.

But Tillerson spokesman R.C. Hammond says "no agreement was reached".

Despite remarks by both diplomats that their nations have many common interests, Lavrov rehashed an extended list of Russian grievances, from NATO's actions in Kosovo in 1999 to US attempts to remove dictators from Sudan to Libya. He called for an "honest investigation" of the attack and said Russian Federation was "not convinced" by evidence that showed the Assad regime was culpable. Some of the raised tension at global level is as much about uncertainty and mixed signals from president Donald Trump as any potentially tougher line emanating from Washington.

Lavrov criticized the Western focus on ousting Assad, saying that it would derail global efforts to combat the Islamic State group and other extremists in Syria.

He said: "It's in our interests not to allow the Islamic State and (the al-Qaida branch in Syria) to hold court in Damascus".

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council before the vote that a resolution was unnecessary, and the draft put forward by the Western powers pre-judged that the Syrian government was responsible for the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun in which almost 90 people died. "He hasn't threatened us at all", Lavrov responded.

Tillerson, who met with Putin earlier on Wednesday, deplored the "low level of trust" between the countries, whose relations have dropped to a post-Cold War low over Ukraine and Syria.

Trump had frequently called during the 2016 United States presidential election campaign for warmer ties with Putin, despite criticism from lawmakers in his own Republican Party.

Lavrov cited the Western experience in Iraq and Libya to argue that the ouster of autocratic rulers by external forces leads to chaos.

"We'll see. We'll see the end result, which will be in a long period of time perhaps, but the end result is what's most important, not just talk, and I think that based on everything I'm hearing, things went pretty well".

Relations between the Cold War adversaries have become even more volatile following a USA strike against a Syrian airfield last week that officials believe launched a chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians in northwest Syria.

He sought to downplay the rift with the US on Syria and other issues, saying that differences between Moscow and Washington aren't insurmountable.

"With respect to Russia's complicity or knowledge of the chemical-weapons attack, we have no firm information to indicate that there was any involvement by Russian forces into this attack", Tillerson said. "We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russian Federation", said Trump.

Secretary Tillerson delivers an opening statement at a joint press availability with #Russia's FM Lavrov in #Moscow.

Vladimir Putin holds a joint news conference with the president of Moldova on January 17.

Mr Lavrov also said President Vladimir Putin is ready to return to implementing the memorandum of understanding on flight safety in Syria with the United States.

Moscow and Washington were plunged into the latest crisis when Mr Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after a poison gas attack in rebel-held Idlib province killed at least 86 people on April 4.

More than 80 people were killed in what the US has described as a nerve gas attack that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces undoubtedly carried out.

By casting a veto on a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, Russian Federation said "no" to resolving the conflict in the country, USA ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday evening.

In Washington, at a news conference with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secretary-general, President Trump was asked by the BBC's Jon Sopel if he thought it was possible that Syrian forces could have launched the alleged attack without Russian Federation knowing about it.

After the UN vote, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russian Federation was "on the wrong side of the argument", while French President Francois Hollande said it "bears a heavy responsibility" for continuing to protect Mr Assad and blocking a united global response.

Though President Donald Trump has spoken with Putin by phone, the meeting was believed to be the first between Putin and a top member of Trump's administration since the new American president took office in January.

"It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded", he told state broadcaster Mir TV. "We don't know. Nobody has shown us anything".

It was not the first meeting between the two men.

After days of speculation over whether Putin and Tillerson would meet, the two ultimately did meet Wednesday, according to a Kremlin spokesperson. The surprise meeting comes after Kremlin officials previously said such a get-together was not on Putin's schedule.

Tillerson says he wants to understand why U.S. -Russia differences exist. He says that makes it hard to have clarity about US positions.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said his administration's policy was not to demand Assad step down as part of a "peaceful resolution to the conflict", in some contrast to Tillerson's remarks in Moscow.

"We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria", Lavrov said, referring to the 59 Tomahawk missiles Trump launched at a Syrian air base to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. Mr Trump said it was "certainly possible" though "probably unlikely". Lavrov, however, pointed to the downside of removing a foreign leader.

It denies it is responsible.

  • Leroy Wright