Published: Thu, April 13, 2017
U.S. | By Monique Johnson

Trump and Putin trade barbs as ministers meet

Trump and Putin trade barbs as ministers meet

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson enter a hall during their meeting in Moscow on Wednesday.

Tillerson greeted his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov with a handshake and a message: Better relations with the US require Russia to stop propping up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Still, Mr Tillerson was greeted frostily in the Russian capital as Mr Lavrov began their meeting Wednesday by demanding to know America's "real intentions".

Tillerson, who met with Putin earlier on Wednesday, deplored the "low level of trust" between the countries, whose relations have dropped to a post-Cold War low over Ukraine and Syria.

Putin also charged that the US broke global law by striking the air base without providing evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

Putin said the United States was using the same tactic it did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

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

In his opening remarks, Tillerson said he was looking forward to "an open, candid, frank exchange" with Lavrov.

Putin has said that Russian Federation will appeal to the United Nations to investigate the chemical attack.

"We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future", he added. But after last week's chemical weapons attack their relationship is increasingly becoming a burden for Putin, jeopardizing chances for improved relations with the U.S.

Tillerson said on Tuesday morning that Russian Federation is either "incompetent" or has "failed" to hold up its end of the deal to destroy Assad's chemical weapons and needed to choose whether to abandon or "maintain its alliance" with Assad.

And the President echoed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in calling out Russian Federation for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He said Russian Federation has lots of questions about the "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas coming from Washington.

Until the chemical attack, the Trump administration had sought to step back from the US position that Assad should leave power.

The two stood in front of their respective flags beneath a grand chandelier and took their seats on opposite sides of a meters-long table, from which Lavrov delivered his welcome.

The U.S. Congress has been conducting a probe into alleged links between Trump's campaign officials and Russian Federation.

The US has blamed Moscow's ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the deadly attack that killed scores of civilians and launched missile strikes against one of the regime's airbases in retribution.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's top diplomat accused the United States of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Putin suggested on Monday that forces within Syria were plotting more chemical attacks, including near Damascus, that they meant to pin on the Syrian regime. Washington, without providing any evidence, claimed the attack came in response to the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government in Khan Shaykhun.

"In its current form this project is unacceptable for us", deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.

Lavrov said after the meeting that both sides agreed that there should be an investigation into the alleged April 4 sarin gas attack on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun - a strike that killed almost 100 civilians, injured hundreds more and elicited a fierce US retaliatory strike two days later.

The US claims the strike destroyed 20% of Syria's operational aircraft, a figure disputed by Russia's Defense Ministry. From 2009 to 2013 he was assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and from 2013 to 2015 he was special assistant to the president and White House co-ordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region. "It's very bad for this world", Trump told Fox Business News.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said that the Trump administration would respond if the Assad regime used barrel bombs against his own people, something that has been a regular occurrence in the six-year civil war. As the Trump administration looks to change Moscow's calculus, it had better understand that it will take a lot more than a single set of missile strikes to do so.

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