US-Russia fail to agree over Syria; Rex Tillerson says low level of trust between two countries

Moscow: The rift between Washington and Moscow was laid bare as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to ease deepening tensions over Syria. "There is a low level of trust between our countries," Tillerson said in a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, reported The Washington Post.

 US-Russia fail to agree over Syria; Rex Tillerson says low level of trust between two countries

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Reuters

"The world's two primary nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship," he said.

After Tillerson spent three hours talking with Lavrov and almost two hours at the Kremlin with Putin, conveying Washington's demands that Moscow abandon Syria, the Russian Foreign Minister aired a long list of grievances with the US, some dating back many years.

"Unfortunately, we've got some differences with regard to a majority of those issues," Lavrov lamented. The only concession that Tillerson appeared to have extracted from the Russians was that Putin offered to restore a hotline aimed at avoiding accidents in the air over Syria, said the report.

Russia had suspended that effort after US missile strikes on a Syrian airbase following an April 4 chemical weapons attack on a village in rebel territory. Lavrov said the deal would apply only if the US and its allies targeted terrorists, not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ­forces.

Both the countries agreed to work together on an investigation of the Syrian chemical attack last week.

However, the Russian President and his officials dismissed US evidence that Assad had carried out the attack, and Putin added a "bombshell prediction" of his own: Unnamed forces­ were going to carry out more chemical weapons attacks and blame these on Assad.

Tillerson reiterated the US belief that Assad ordered the attack, though he stepped back from the US charge that Russia was covering up Assad's culpability."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.

"What we do know is the attack was planned and carried out by regime forces­ at the direction of Assad."Lavrov retorted by saying: "This is obviously the subject where our views differ."

There were only a handful of issues Tillerson and Lavrov said they broadly agreed on -- that the Korean peninsula should be denuclearized, Syria should be "unified and stable" after the Islamic State is defeated, and that there should be more communication between US and Russian diplomats and militaries.

Tillerson said both nations would set up a "working group" to seek ways to ease tensions. Shortly after Tillerson and Lavrov finished speaking to reporters, Trump said in a news conference in Washington that the US is "not getting along with Russia at all" and that their relations are at an "all-time low."

Russia also vetoed a UN resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the chemical attack, saying that Moscow had expressed its "categorical disagreement" with the draft resolution, which led to further criticism from the West, including the US.

"The international community has spoken. Russia now has a lot to prove," US Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2017 14:25:04 IST