President Trump is saying relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low,” just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a lengthy meeting with President Vladimir Putin, with the two superpowers still not seeing eye to eye on the cause of last week’s chemical attacks in Syria or how to deal with dictator Bashar Assad.
“Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said at the White House while hosting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We may be at an all-time low relationship with Russia.”
That gloomy assessment echoed what Tillerson said in Moscow, alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Tillerson said U.S.-Russian relations were “at a low point” and there’s a “low level of trust between our two countries.”
Tillerson met with Putin for about two hours yesterday.
“This has been a long day,” Lavrov said.
The two sides appear to be hung up on the future of Assad, backed by Russia, and slammed by Trump as a “butcher” who slaughters his own people with poison gas and barrel bombs.
“The vicious slaughter of innocent civilians with chemical weapons, including the barbaric killing of small and helpless children and babies, must be forcefully rejected by any nation that values human life,” Trump said. “It is time to end this brutal civil war, defeat terrorists and allow refugees to return home.”
In Moscow, however, Lavrov expressed the Russian view that his country is in no rush to see Assad leave.
“I don’t remember a case of a dictator being removed smoothly without violence,” said Lavrov, lamenting past efforts to remove Slobodan Milosevic from Serbia, Saddam Hussein from Iraq, and Moammar Gadhafi from Libya. “Removing or ousting a particular personality from this scene is not on our agenda.”
Russia’s coziness with Syria provides it several strategic advantages, including proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.
Despite the U.S.’ high level of confidence that Assad carried out the chemical attacks last week that killed dozens of civilians, Russia still disputes that conclusion.
In fact, Russia yesterday vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning the civilian murders and requiring Syria to cooperate with investigators looking into the chemical attack.
But both sides also sought to highlight areas of agreement, including their focus on defeating ISIS.
Tillerson said the U.S. and Russia also agree that North Korea must be “de-nuclearized” and that there needs to be more communication between senior staffers from the former Cold War powers “both at a diplomatic and military level.”
Trump suggested later from the White House that the talks may have actually gone better than expected, but that it was too soon to draw conclusions.
“We’ll see the end result, which will be in a longer period of time perhaps,” said Trump. “But the end result is what’s most important, not just talk.”
Speaking with the NATO secretary general, Trump said that the organization may not be as useless as he had declared during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said. “It’s no longer obsolete.”
And Stoltenberg, the secretary general, acknowledged a Trump campaign gripe — that many NATO nations fail to pay 2 percent of GDP toward defense, often leaving the United States military to carry the burden.
“We know that we all need to contribute our fair share,” Stoltenberg said. “Because we need to keep our nations safe in a more dangerous world.”
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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