Tue | May 23, 2017

Moscow accuses US of unlawful Syria raid as Tillerson visits

Published:Thursday | April 13, 2017 | 4:20 AM
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov walk prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia, yesterday. (AP)

MOSCOW (AP):

Russia's top diplomat accused the United States yesterday of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces as he opened a fraught meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Giving Tillerson a chilly reception, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia was trying to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration. He said Moscow has lots of questions about the "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas emanating from Washington.

 

'Alarming actions'

 

"We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria," Lavrov said, referring to the cruise missiles President Donald Trump ordered to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future."

It was an ominous start to Tillerson's visit the first to Russia by a Trump Cabinet official. Tillerson conceded the two world powers had "sharp differences" that have obstructed cooperation but voiced optimism that their talks could narrow those differences.

"We both have agreed our lines of communication shall always remain open," Tillerson said.

Trump, meanwhile, told Fox Business News that the U.S. had no plans to become more deeply involved in Syria and only did so because of last week's deadly chemical weapons attack that killed dozens. Turkey has said tests showed sarin gas was used.

"Are we going to get involved with Syria? No," Trump said in the interview, which aired yesterday in the U.S. "But if I see them using gas...we have to do something."

'This is an animal'

The palpable tension hanging over U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to Russia, spoke to a widening chasm between the former Cold War foes.

Only weeks ago, it appeared that Donald Trump, who lavishly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the election campaign, was poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russia.

 

Rapport crashed

 

But any expectations of an easy rapport have crashed into reality as the two countries trade escalating accusations over what happened last week in rebel-held territory in northern Syria.

"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person," Trump aid in the Fox Business Network interview, referring to Assad. "I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind."

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