Tillerson Visits Moscow Amid a Turbulent Period in Russia-US Relations

© REUTERS / Maxim ShemetovRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson enter a hall during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2017
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson enter a hall during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, April 12, 2017 - Sputnik International
Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have discussed urgent issues on the bilateral agenda as part of Tillerson’s first visit to the Russian capital in his new post.

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Among the main issues touched upon during the Wednesday talks were the current state of the Russia-US relations, international political cooperation, the situation in Syria, the chemical weapons incident in Idlib in particular, cybersecurity, disarmament, and international terrorism.

Lavrov described the talks as "frank and comprehensive," while Tillerson called the discussions productive and stressed he was looking forward to future meetings.

Lavrov said that he was sure that the Wednesday meeting with Tillerson, as well as the meeting with Putin, was "not in vain," expressing hope that contacts between the Russian government and the US administration would continue.


According to Lavrov, both sides pointed out that the current state of bilateral relations was rather turbulent, and there were many issues left from the previous US administration.

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In turn, Tillerson said that the US-Russia relations were at a low point as the level of bilateral trust was low, adding that the sides agreed to improve the channels of communication.

Lavrov stated that Moscow noticed attempts to hamper Russia-US cooperation and incite confrontation between the two countries and stressed that the pragmatic approach to analyzing the issues in relations between Russia and the United States would facilitate their improvement.

In order to improve relations, Russia and the United States agreed to appoint special representatives from the Foreign Ministry and the State Department, respectively, to find all contentious issues that appeared in the relationship between the two countries over the recent years and to analyze them in detail, Lavrov said.

Tillerson said the sides agreed that there should be more high-level communication between US and Russia, both at the diplomatic and military level.

The Russian foreign minister expressed hope that the joint Russian-US presidential commission for consideration of the issues of concern in bilateral relations would resume its work, saying, however, that this issue was not discussed during the Wednesday meeting with Tillerson.

Lavrov stressed that the prospect of new restrictive measures against Russia was not raised during talks with his US counterpart, adding that Tillerson "was not threatening with anything at all."


Tillerson said Russia and the United States agreed to continue discussions about how to resolve the Syrian crisis.

"Foreign Minister Lavrov and I agreed we would consider further proposals made about the way forward in Syria including consulting with our allies and coalition members. And we will continue discussions about how to find a solution to the Syrian conflict," Tillerson said at a briefing after talks with Lavrov on Wednesday.

He stressed that Washington believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family would not be able to participate in the future governance of Syria, but the departure of Assad should be "orderly."

Tillerson added that enough evidence to bring war crime charges against Assad may be collected over time, but there was not enough proof at the moment.

In turn, Lavrov stressed that Russia was not betting on a specific person in Syria including Assad.

"There must be an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue. And the Syrians must determine the fate of Syria by themselves, as it is written in the [UN] Security Council Resolution," Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister also expressed concern that Washington appeared to protect the terrorists of the Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front) group (outlawed in Russia) active in Syria, in order to try to overthrow Assad’s government by force.

In connection to that, Putin said, as quoted by Lavrov, that Russia was ready to return to the suspended memorandum of understanding on preventing aerial incidents in Syria, if the United States confirmed that their goal there was to fight the terrorists of Daesh (banned in Russia), the Nusra Front and other terrorist groups.

At the same time, Lavrov said Russia and the United States have reaffirmed their determination to fight terrorism.


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On April 4, the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces reported a chemical weapon attack in Idlib. According to recent data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), 84 people, including 27 children, died in the incident. Syria denied the government’s involvement in the incident, but the United States carried out a missile attack on the Syrian government’s airbase of Ash Sha’irat, claiming, with no evidence provided, that the chemical attack was launched from there. Putin said that groundless accusations were unacceptable before the investigation into the matter had been carried out.

During the briefing after Wednesday talks with Tillerson, Lavrov said the sides discussed the necessity to thoroughly investigate the incident in Idlib, adding that Moscow has seen the United States' readiness to support an international investigation of the events in Idlib.

"We discussed the situation in Syria and the incident, which took place on April 4 in Syria near Idlib, where the use of chemical substances took place, and we discussed the subsequent US missile strike on an airfield on April 7… Today we talked about the necessity to carefully investigate this incident that has already become the subject of numerous speculations… We have seen the readiness of our US colleagues to support such an investigation and we hope that powers in possession of the United Nations and the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] will be used promptly," Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, Russia is not trying to exonerate anybody by insisting on the investigation, and if the members of international community tried to "avoid the investigation, it will mean that they are not seeking the truth."

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The Russian foreign minister stressed that Russia considers counterproductive the attempts to pass a UN Security Council resolution on the chemical weapons incident in the Syrian province of Idlib that was proposed by the United States, France and the United Kingdom and largely contains accusations against Damascus.

Lavrov stressed Moscow is using its relations with Damascus to encourage the Syrian government to fully cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), adding that the OPCW reports contain information that some chemical weapons storage sites were now under the control of extremists.

In turn, Tillerson reiterated that Washington views the recent suspected chemical attack in Syria's Idlib as executed by the Syrian government forces and added that the United States does not have any specific information regarding Russia’s involvement in the Idlib incident.


Lavrov said that Moscow was interested in close cooperation with Washington on combating crimes in cyberspace, adding that Moscow had proposed former US administration to create a bilateral mechanism of real-time information exchange aimed at identifying sources of cyber attacks, but Washington ignored it.

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Lavrov added that Russia had not been given any evidence to confirm claims of Moscow's interference in US presidential elections last year.

Tillerson stated that cybersecurity was among the issues that Lavrov suggested to him for further bilateral consultations and was only touched upon during the talks.

Cybersecurity has been the source of concern for many countries facing elections in the near future, their worries spurred by the US Intelligence Community suggesting in its January report that Russia may have interfered in the November 2016 US elections.

Moscow has repeatedly denied its involvement in the presidential elections in the United States. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the allegations of Russia’s interference, said that Moscow avoided actions that could be interpreted as meddling in the election process in other countries.


Lavrov stated that Russia and the United States would keep following the policy of non-interference into the domestic affairs of other countries, expressing hope that the example of Iraq, Libya and a number of other countries would serve as a good warning against such attempts being repeated elsewhere.

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At the same time, Lavrov said Russia and the United States had capabilities of helping the international community settle the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, adding that Russia and the United States stand for strict implementation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding the Korean Peninsula and would try to find ways to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through political and diplomatic efforts.

Lavrov stressed that Russia and the United States had a common position that the Minsk agreements on the Ukrainian settlement must be observed.

"We have felt that the present administration is interested in continuing bilateral contacts on the issue to help searching for practical ways to implement the Minsk agreements fully. We will welcome the efforts, we are ready for them," Lavrov said on Wednesday.

In turn, Tillerson said that there was no change in the status of sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukrainian conflict.

The sides also reached and agreement to resume the negotiations on the issue of arms control that were paused "for objective reasons due to the change of the US administration," according to Lavrov.


Senior member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, Alexei Pushkov said after the Wednesday talks between Lavrov and Tillerson that the visit of the US Secretary of State to Moscow was an attempt to start building trust in Russia-US relations.

"The result of the talks in Moscow: this is not a breakthrough, but a transition to the dialogue and an attempt to strengthen mutual trust after [a] serious upsurge of tensions," Pushkov wrote on Twitter.

Chairman of the Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky said that the Wednesday talks demonstrated that Washington was not planning to present Russia with an ultimatum.

"One of the results of Tillerson’s visit was the crash of forecasts on the presentation of ultimatums from the United States. There were no ultimatums, on the contrary, an agreement was reached to set up a working group to resolve the most difficult issues in Russia-US relations. Moreover, Tillerson announced that Russia and the US must do everything to restore trust and stop the degradation of the relations between the two nuclear powers," Slutsky stressed.

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Nonetheless, he warned against assessing the Wednesday talks as breakthrough discussions, saying that Russia and the United States must maintain dialogue on Syria, North Korea and cybersecurity.

Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Defense and Security Victor Ozerov told Sputnik on Wednesday that the Lavrov-Tillerson talks demonstrated that Moscow and Washington do have points of agreement and are willing to hold dialogue to develop closer ties.

Ozerov said that the Russia-US memorandum on the prevention of incidents and air safety in Syria would be restored on April 12.

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