MOSCOW, April 12 – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held his first directs talks with Russia’s president on Wednesday amid deepening tensions after U.S. missile strikes in Syria and Washington’s demands that Moscow abandon support for its main Middle East ally.
The meeting between Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin came after hours of tense exchanges, with both sides staking out positions that were sharply at odds. Russia made it clear it was unwilling to roll back its strategic alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The talks appeared unlikely to bring any significant breakthroughs after last week’s missile strike plunged U.S.-Russian relations to one of the lowest points since the Cold War.
But despite the growing rifts, some general compromises were discussed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Putin might agree to resume an information-sharing “deconfliction” network with the United States on the countries’ warplane flights in Syria. Russia suspended its role in the system after the U.S. missile strikes, and Lavrov said it could be restored if the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Syria focused only on the Islamic State and other militant groups — and not expand to Syrian government targets.
Tillerson said the United States has no information that Russian forces directly helped with the chemical attack, but U.S. officials earlier suggested that Russia could have known about the Syrian plans in advance.
“We have no firm information to indicate there was any involvement by Russia, Russian forces, into this attack,” Tillerson said, The Washington Post reported. “What we do know, and we have very firm and high confidence in our conclusions, is that the attack was planned and carried out at the direction of the Syrian leader.”
Throughout the day, the wide gaps between Russia and the United States were on full display. But Moscow appeared unready to budge on the primary goal of Tillerson’s mission — persuading Russia to help remove Assad from power. (wp/ez)