Seeking to salvage ties, US and Russia agree on Syria probe

Posted April 14, 2017

In addition to the US strike, subsequent criticism by top USA officials regarding Russia's responsibility in the al-Assad regime's irresponsible use of chemical agents created a backlash in Russian Federation.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was met with a stern scolding by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday, as the two leaders convened for a full day of meetings in Moscow. More than 80 people were killed in what the US has described as a nerve gas attack that Assad's forces undoubtedly carried out.

Lavrov said Russian Federation understands Tillerson and President Donald Trump "inherited" a lot of issues from President Obama.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Syria doesn't have chemical weapons and condemned the US strike as "an act of aggression".

"There is a low level of trust between our two countries".

Wednesday's meeting occurred amid the worst U.S. -Russia diplomatic relations since the end of the Cold War, more than a quarter-century ago.

As the powerbrokers wrangled over the six-year war in Syria that has cost some 320,000 lives, a deal on the ground to evacuate four besieged towns began Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners between rebels and government forces, local sources and state media said. In Ghouta, for example, a chemical attack by the al-Assad regime on August 21, 2013 killed nearly 1,500 people. "Our view is the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end".

Tillerson said Syria's government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict. And he suggested that possible war crimes charges could be levied against the Syrian leader.

Could Syria have launched the chemical weapons attack with Russia's advance knowledge? "He hasn't threatened us at all", Lavrov responded.

Still, the USA isn't standing in the way of an investigation.

The meeting was steeped in geopolitical intrigue, with neither country saying ahead of time if it would take place or not.

There are still no announced plans for Tillerson to meet with Putin, but the secretary of state remains open to it, according to the State Department.

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The diplomats know each other well from Mr Tillerson's days as Exxon Mobil chief executive.

Tillerson, whom Putin awarded the Order of Friendship in 2012, was perhaps best suited for the mission of reestablishing communications.

Still, Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings.

Lavrov criticized the US for airstrikes on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warned that similar action was unacceptable to Russian Federation, and chided the Trump administration for an inconsistent foreign policy and vacant positions at the State Department.

Lavrov said that Russian Federation considers, "it crucially important to prevent a repetition of such actions in the future".

If it determines that chemical weapons were used, then a joint U.N./OPCW investigation will look at the incident to determine who is to blame.

"And of course, that's not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken".

In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order USA forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.

The talks got off to a frosty start, with the Russian politician branding the American cruise missile strike "illegal" and criticising "confusing and sometimes openly contradictory ideas" from the Trump administration on the US-Russia relationship and worldwide issues.

Laying bare deep and risky divisions on Syria and other issues, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that US relations with Russian Federation "may be at an all-time low". As the Federal Bureau of Investigation and multiple congressional committees investigate possible collusion between Russian Federation and Trump's campaign, the president and his aides can now point to his hard-line stance on Syrian President Bashar Assad as evidence he's willing to stand up to Putin. Trump says it's also "very bad for mankind".

Of Assad, Trump added: "This is an animal".

"Our meetings today come at an important moment in the relationship so that we can further clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interest, even when our tactical approaches may be different, and to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be", he said.