Putin meets Tillerson as US, Russia fiercely feud over Syria

The chemical attack prompted a world outcry and a USA missile attack that marked a turning point in the Trump administration's approach to the seven-year-old conflict.

President Trump said that the images of the attack's aftermath moved him to act, launching the Tomahawk strike on the airbase from where the United States believes the planes took off to carry out the attack.

Council members also were briefed by U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is tasked with trying to bring the opposing Syrian sides together in a political settlement.

For his part, Lavrov warned against an global effort to remove Assad from power, citing the cases of Iraq and Libya to argue that the ouster of autocratic rulers by external forces leads to chaos.

Striving to salvage ties amid a fierce dispute over Syria, the United States and Russian Federation on Wednesday agreed to work together on an global investigation of a Syrian chemical weapons attack last week that prompted retaliatory American missile strikes.

Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office - a point of sensitivity in Washington.

Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible.

Tillerson said last week the Russians were "complicit or simply incompetent".

"Our policy is consistent and it's formulated exclusively on the basis of global law and not under the impact of current opportunistic motives or false choice: 'You are with us or against us, '" Lavrov told Tillerson.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow this week to discuss Syria, and national security analysts suggest a firm but respectful dialogue is best.

The United States launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield on Thursday to retaliate after the attack.

Syria's Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari said it is all "lies and accusations" against his country, and Syria no longer possesses chemical weapons, as confirmed by the United Nations in June 2014.

"At the moment there is no consensus on new sanctions as an effective instrument", Italy's Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said, after his British counterpart Boris Johnson had raised the issue.

Tillerson said Syria's government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict.

President Trump said Wednesday that relations with Russian Federation "may be at an all-time low" following Syria's use of chemical weapons last week and the USA airstrike that followed.

He told ministers in Lucca last week US missile strikes were necessary as a matter of USA national security, and indicated the Trump administration may not be done with Assad.

"Everyone wants to restore relations in the Western community after - thanks to the former U.S. administration - many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign", he said.

UK ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft said it was "indefensible" for Russian Federation to support the Syrian regime, as UK scientists in Porton Down confirmed that samples from the scene tested positive for a toxic chemical known as sarin.

It was a grim assessment that echoed the words of the president's top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left an nearly two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow declaring the countries had reached a "low point" in relations.

Tillerson travelled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russian Federation should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialised economies also attended by Middle East allies.

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".

'To my colleagues from Russian Federation - you are isolating yourselves from the worldwide community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death, ' Haley said during a Security Council meeting earlier on Wednesday. Tillerson formerly led Exxon Mobil's oil operations in Russian Federation, as NPR's Colin Dwyer has reported.

"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person", Trump said, referring to Assad.

"You can say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military side, has not improved but most likely worsened", Putin said in the transcript of an interview with Mir television released by the Kremlin.

"You know that negotiations between the foreign minister and the secretary of state are underway, and if it is found reasonable to report the outcome of the negotiations to the president today, we will inform you in due course", the Interfax news agency quoted Peskov as saying.

The comments are expected to clear the air amid speculations that last week's United States missile attack against a Syrian airfield was the stepping stone for a major invasion. The latter, nevertheless, gained a renewed global attention due to the US strike.

  • Salvatore Jensen