The current serious deficit of trust between Russia and the United States, as well as the stated desire by both countries to improve relations, was recently on display in Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a press conference after Secretary Tillerson met with Mr. Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” Secretary Tillerson said. He and Russian leaders discussed approaches to improving channels of cooperation.
Although Russia remains the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who, Secretary Tillerson said, could be charged with war crimes for his actions against the Syrian people, both the United States and Russia recognize the importance of denying “a safe haven [in Syria] for terrorists who want to attack both of our countries.”
Mr. Tillerson said he and Mr. Lavrov also believe in a unified and stable Syria, and both are open to further discussion of possible political solutions to the Syrian conflict.
However, Secretary Tillerson reiterated the U.S. position that the Syrian regime planned and executed the April 4th chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4. And during their talks, the Secretary did not agree to a Russian proposal to create a new investigative mechanism to address the Syrian chemical weapons attack. The United States believes that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations already have existing and effective mechanisms in place to address chemical weapons allegations in Syria.
On North Korea, the United States and Russia agreed that the DPRK has to be denuclearized, and the two sides discussed “the constructive role Russia can play in encouraging the regime in North Korea to change its course.”
Regarding Ukraine, Secretary Tillerson urged Russia to fully implement the Minsk Agreements by de-escalating violence and taking steps to withdraw separatist armed forces and heavy weapons, so that OSCE observers can fulfill their role. “Until full progress is made under the Minsk Agreements,” he said, the situation in Ukraine will remain an obstacle to improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia.”
The U.S. and Russia agreed to establish a working group aimed at stabilizing their fraying relationship. “We need to attempt to put an end to this steady degradation,” Secretary of State Tillerson said, “which is doing nothing…to make progress on the issues of the greatest importance to both of us.”