Tillerson meets with Putin amid deepening tensions over U.S. missile strikes in Syria

The Washington Post reports: The rift between the United States and Russia was laid bare Wednesday when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held his first direct talks with Russia’s president. Their discussions failed to ease deepening tensions over Syria and Washington’s demands that Moscow abandon its main Middle East ally.

“There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Tillerson said in a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “The world’s two primary nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

Wednesday’s meeting brought no indication that the relationship would improve any time soon.

After Tillerson spent three hours talking with Lavrov and almost two hours at the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov, sitting three feet from Tillerson, aired a long list of grievances with the United States, some dating back many years.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got some differences with regards 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. Russia had suspended that effort after U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base following an April 4 chemical weapons attack on a village in rebel territory. Even this tiny success was conditional; Lavrov said the deal would apply only if the United States and its allies targeted terrorists — not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ­forces.

Hopes may never have been high, especially after Russia sounded a defiant note before Tillerson arrived in Moscow. But if this was the chance to find common ground before the Trump administration attempts any new action on Syria, it has ended in failure.

The Russians used Tillerson’s visit as a chance to reassert Moscow’s firm stance on Syria: that it will not abide by any effort to remove Assad from power. [Continue reading…]

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