Russian Federation urges `cooperation` with United States as Tillerson visits

Cheryl Sanders
April 12, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow Tuesday with an ultimatum for Russia: Side with the U.S. and likeminded countries on Syria, or embrace Iran, militant group Hezbollah and embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

G7 foreign ministers have failed to agree on whether fresh sanctions should be imposed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or his ally Russia, Italy's foreign minister Angelino Alfano said on Tuesday.

The United States launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield on Thursday to retaliate after the attack.

One thing that did appear to unite the group was the future of Mr Assad.

Tillerson is traveling Tuesday to Moscow.

"Clearly, they are Bashar al-Assad's current ally", he added. "Russian Federation can be a part of that future and play an important role", Tillerson added in remarks to reporters.

The Kremlin pledged in 2013 to remove or destroy - with the blessing of the Obama administration - Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. "Stockpiles and continued use demonstrate that Russian Federation has failed in its responsibility to deliver on its 2013 commitment", Tillerson said. But he said the distinction "doesn't much matter to the dead".

Tillerson said Tuesday that Russian Federation must choose between aligning itself with the US or with Assad and Iran.

Akdag said that blood and urine samples taken from the victims confirmed that they were subjected to the nerve agent.

Though meant to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack, the USA strikes last week served to refocus the world's attention on the bloody war in Syria, now in its seventh year.

Putin said on Tuesday Russia would be urgently asking the global chemical weapons watchdog - the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - to investigate the incident. "Or would Russian Federation prefer to realign with the United States, with other western countries and Middle-East countries who are seeking to resolve the Syrian crisis?"

"It reminds me of the events in 2003 when USA envoys to the Security Council were demonstrating what they said were chemical weapons found in Iraq", Putin told reporters Tuesday, according to a translation by The Associated Press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin - whom Tillerson will not be meeting with, according to the trip's latest itinerary - said that in Tillerson's recent rhetoric he heard echoes of the days leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has delivered her backing for Johnson's sanctions plan from her walking holiday with her husband in Wales.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano says there was "no consensus" among ministers attending the meeting for new sanctions on Russian Federation and Syria over its support for Assad, the Associated Press reported.

"Russia's behaviour is not consistent with the rules-based worldwide order", the G7 statement said.

The U.S. -backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been on the offensive since November capturing territory with the aim of laying siege to Raqqa.

Tillerson is set to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

The United States said its strike on the Syrian airbase near Homs on Friday was a one-off, and not a strategic shift. "Or Russia can maintain its alliance" with Syria and Iran. But a spokesman for the Department of Defense discounted that report later on Monday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer later told reporters that the facts backed up the United States version of events. The resulting political talks would take place under the auspices of the United Nations process in Geneva.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff said in televised remarks on Tuesday that the Syrian government is ready to let worldwide experts to examine the base and that Russia will provide security for them.

Where does the USA stand on Syria now? If they weren't, there would be more of them and they would probably be used more often. Some officials, like Tillerson, said the US was confident Syrians would choose on their own to push Assad aside, while suggesting the USA wouldn't mandate it. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and others said that ousting Assad was indeed a USA goal, but only one of several.

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