Trump declares US-Russia relations may be at 'all-time low'

At the start of his meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said he wanted to "clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interest - even where our tactical approaches may be different - and further clarify areas of sharp difference".

"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 Russia, Russian forces into this attack", he said.

Further punctuating the Syria dispute, Russian Federation vetoed a Western-backed resolution at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemning the chemical attack.

Tillerson's past as a holder of Russia's state order of friendship and an opponent of sanctions on Russia during his tenure as CEO of Exxon Mobil, originally placed him in the pro-Russian camp of Trump's cabinet picks, though he has expressed a tougher stance towards Moscow since his Congressional confirmation. But he clearly wasn't counting on it.

When asked by a journalist from Russian TV channel Mir about the state of Russian-U.S. relations, Putin said, "we can say that the level of trust at a working level, particularly in a military level, has not improved but rather has degraded".

Before the sit-down, Putin had ensured that it would be awkward.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the level of trust between his country and the U.S. has dropped further since the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Despite initial hopes in Moscow of better ties with the USA under Trump, the two powers have descended into a furious war of words over the incident and a retaliatory USA missile strike against the forces of the Kremlin's ally Bashar al-Assad last week.

Only weeks ago, it appeared that Trump, who lavishly praised Putin throughout the campaign, was poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russian Federation.

The President's oft-expressed hopes of repairing relations with Moscow, for which he took vast heat during and after his presidential campaign, are unravelling.

The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad's use of chemical weapons after the attack on a rebel-held Syrian town last week killed 87 people.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Syria had sent dozens of letters to the Security Council, some detailing "the smuggling of sarin from Libya through Turkey on a civilian air plane by using a Syrian citizen".

It was the eighth veto by Russian Federation, a close ally of Assad, on a Western-backed Syria resolution and reflected the deep division that has left the UN's most powerful body struggling to tackle the use of banned chemical weapons and to help end the six-year Syrian conflict.

Speaking of the missile strikes he authorized against the base the carried out the chemical attack, Trump later added: "I have absolutely no doubt we did the right thing".

After the vote at the UN, French President Francois Hollande said Russian Federation "bears a heavy responsibility" for continuing to protect Assad and blocking a united worldwide response.

But Mr Tillerson repeated the administration's new belief that "the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end".

On most issues - the chemical attack and Assad, Russia's support for separatists fueling conflict in Ukraine, and Russian interference in the US election chief among them - the diplomats offered different explanations and facts. "Are we going to get involved with Syria?"

Russia's veto was the eighth by the country at the UN Security Council, in a bid to shield Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Let us use this moment of crisis - and it is a moment of crisis - as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution", he said.

He also rejected American claims of incontrovertible evidence that Assad ordered the chemical attack. He also said Putin had agreed to reactivate a U.S.

Despite hopes of an improvement in ties under Trump, the Tillerson-Lavrov talks look set to be dominated by the war of words over Syria - where more than 320,000 people have died in six years of brutal war.

  • Carolyn Briggs