In interview, Trump seems to rule out deeper US intervention in Syria
Apr 14 2017 by Lorena Waters
"Is that a long term alliance that serves Russia's interests?" he said, suggesting Russian Federation could forge closer ties with the US and other likeminded countries rather than Assad, Iran, and the militant group Hezbollah.
Earlier, Mr Tillerson and Mr Lavrov met with Vladimir Putin to discuss a host of issues.
"In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington", Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency. It was stark evidence that the president is moving ever further from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.
Some of Washington's allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of USA support for its traditional friends.
But Russia, an ally of Syria, blocked a draft UN Security Council resolution which would require President Assad to provide information about air operations and grant inspectors immediate access to air bases.
"We have seen it all already", Putin said. But he clearly wasn't counting on it. "It may be just the opposite". Tillerson told reporters the two countries have reached a "low point" in relations in the aftermath of a chemical attack in Syria. Although the US informed Russia prior to the strike through the "deconfliction line", created in October 2015 to prevent accidents over Syrian airspace, this did not ease the Russian reaction. As the Federal Bureau of Investigation and multiple congressional committees investigate potential collusion between Russian Federation and Trump's campaign, Trump can point to his hard-line stance on Assad as fresh evidence that he's willing to stand up to Putin.
The US has tried to use the attack to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Damascus, saying that Russian Federation must choose between Syria - and being on the wrong side of history - or turn toward the global community in getting rid of Assad.
Adding further fuel to rising tensions: the White House's move to circulate declassified US intelligence accusing Moscow of aiding Assad's government in covering up a gruesome, nerve gas attack that killed more than 80 people.
President Donald Trump's repeated campaign calls for improving relations with Russian Federation had led to speculation that Washington might remove or dilute sanctions imposed against Russian Federation for its interference in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said he is "dismayed" at Russia's veto of a United Nations resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, saying: "This puts Russian Federation on the wrong side of the argument". Still, the decision to launch missile strikes in response to use of chemicals heralded the end of USA inaction in Syria and reminded all players that the U.S.is still in the game.
The palpable tension hanging over Tillerson's trip spoke to a widening chasm between the two world powers.
What the US needs now more than ever is to actually present the image of a united America, whose representatives all hold similar core values.
US President Donald Trump ordered the bombing in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.
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.
Lavrov said Russian Federation had lots of questions about the Trump administration's "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas.
While meeting with Tillerson in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a second USA strike can not happen. "No", Trump said. But, he added, "I see them using gas. we have to do something". "I hope that these contacts will continue", the foreign minister said.
Still, Mr Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings.
"We were aware of the presence of Russians at the airfield and took appropriate actions to ensure no Russians were injured in the attack", he said.
But such hopes appeared optimistic as the diplomats outlined their sharply diverging views on Syria.
Asked whether Assad could be subject to war crimes charges, Tillerson said people were working to make such a case, though he cautioned that would require clearing a high legal hurdle. The country's leader is backed by Russian Federation, whose military forces are fighting Islamist terrorists in an ongoing civil war. "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future".
After Republican leaders pulled their health care bill back from a House vote last month, Trump signaled that he was ready to move on to tax overhaul and other issues.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that while defeating ISIS was first priority, further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would not be tolerated and could warrant additional military action.
But he also appeared to rule out deeper involvement, saying: "Are we going to get involved with Syria? No".
Trump says he's "very impressed" with Xi, adding he thought he means well and wants to help.
"We can not let this happen again", Tillerson told reporters before flying to Moscow.