US, Russia agree to push chemical weapons probe
- Author: Leroy Wright Apr 14, 2017,
Apr 14, 2017, 15:16
Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday, ending days of uncertainty over whether they would get together during Tillerson's visit.
The weekend bombing of a Syrian air force base at President Donald Trump's order was meant to send a message to Syria, Russia and the rest of the world that the US won't stand by any longer while Syrian strongman Basher al-Assad commits war crimes against his own people by using sarin nerve gas.
The State Department did not immediately confirmthe Putin-Tillerson meeting, but the department from the beginning had expected Tillerson and Putin to sit down, as the Russian leader typically meets with USA secretaries of State. Russia's alleged meddling in the USA presidential election also hovered over the first face-to-face encounter between Putin and a Trump administration Cabinet member. Any expectations of an easy rapport have crashed into reality amid the nasty back-and-forth over Syria and ongoing USA investigations into Russia's activity connected to the US presidential election.
It was an ominous start to Tillerson's visit - the first to Russian Federation by a Trump Cabinet official.
As Tillerson sat down for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, a senior Russian official assailed the "primitiveness and loutishness" of US rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximise the awkwardness during the first visit to Moscow by a member of Trump's cabinet. Giving Tillerson a chilly reception, Lavrov said Russian Federation was trying to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration.
President Vladimir Putin received Lavrov and Tillerson at the Kremlin Palace, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters later. They weren't authorized to discuss diplomatic conversations publicly and requested anonymity.
Russian president says ties with U.S. worsened in recent months as top diplomats lock horns over Syria conflict.
The 59 Tomahawk missiles that hit the air base didn't surprise anyone - the US alerted Russian officials to ensure their personnel would escape injury and minimize a risk of armed conflict.
As the Federal Bureau of Investigation and multiple congressional committees investigate potential collusion between Russia and Trump's campaign in last year's USA election, Trump can point to his hard-line stance as fresh evidence that he's far from beholden to the Russian leader.
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. "But when I see people using disgusting, awful chemical weapons. and see these attractive kids that are dead in their father's arms, or you see kids gasping for life. when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis".
The United States slapped Russian Federation with serious financial sanctions after the annexation, but Tillerson said sanctions remain in place for now. The U.S. says the United Nations doesn't need action from the U.S.to investigate because there are already mechanisms in place to investigate chemical weapons use in Syria. "I think it's very bad for mankind". The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Moscow attempted to influence the election in Trump's favor.
Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad's side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces.
Lavrov told Tillerson Moscow was hoping to understand Washington's "real intentions" and warned that the Kremlin considered it "fundamentally important" to prevent more "unlawful" USA strikes against its ally Syria.
"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 television channel Mir. "No", Trump said in the interview, which aired Wednesday in the U.S.
"Most recently, we saw rather alarming steps, when an unlawful attack against Syria was carried out", Lavrov said, according to Tass.
Russian Federation has vetoed a Western-backed draft UN Security Council resolution on last week's suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Russian Federation has never publicly acknowledged any such attacks by Assad's forces and has tried for the past 18 months to help him expand his authority in Syria.
Of Assad, Trump added: "This is an animal".