US top diplomat Tillerson in tense exchange with Russian counterpart | News | DW | 12.04.2017
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US top diplomat Tillerson in tense exchange with Russian counterpart

The US Secretary of State was seeking to push Moscow to end its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin on the other hand demanded an explanation of the "contradictory" US policy regarding the conflict.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he hoped to clear up "sharp differences" during bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday. Lavrov, for his part, said he wanted to clear up the "ambiguous" and "contradictory" policies from the White House regarding Syria.

The Kremlin's top diplomat said that it was difficult to understand the "real intentions" of President Donald Trump, who praised Russia during his election campaign but has behaved coldly towards Moscow in recent weeks.

Furthermore, both Tillerson and US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley had to walk back statements saying it wasn't the highest priority to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after a US airstrike against a Syrian air base last week. Trump launched the strike in response to a suspected gas attack, in which Assad's troops reportedly killed 86 people and injured hundreds more.

Trump then called Assad "an animal" and called for his ouster. He also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "backing an evil person."

Lavrov: US strike unlawful

"We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria," Lavrov said. "We consider it of utmost

importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future."

After the talks, the Secretary of State said the pair had a "very open, candid and frank exchange" that served to "clarify areas of common objectives," but admitted that differences remained.

Putin: US-Russian relations worse than before

Putin also commented on Tillerson's visit, saying he thought relations between Moscow and Washington had deteriorated during the Trump administration, contrary to expectations.

"It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded," Putin told state media.

Russia has supported President Assad's claim that the gas attack was the result of Islamist rebels stockpiling the nerve agent Sarin, and that it was released when government troops attacked one of their warehouses. Putin added on Wednesday that Assad had made good on his promise to dispose of all his chemical weapons "so far as we know."

When asked if he might meet with Tillerson personally before he leaves Moscow, Putin said it was "definitely a possibility."

es/rt (AP, Reuters)

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