Choose between Assad and U.S., Tillerson tells Russia

April 12, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 03:31 am IST - Washington

Secretary of State arrives in Moscow for bilateral talks as tensions remain high

The U.S. on Monday clubbed Russia with Iran and North Korea, naming them as countries opposed to Washington’s global interests, setting the stage for a potentially unpleasant meeting between foreign ministers of the two countries on late Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and other leaders. Russia has said President Vladimir Putin would not be meeting Mr. Tillerson. Ahead of the visit, Mr. Tillerson asked Russia to choose between the U.S. and its allies and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The statement comes after American the U.S. targeted the regime supported by Russia in missile strikes last week.

Statements by White House spokesperson Sean Spicer and Mr. Tillerson ahead of the meetings sounded a far cry from what President Donald Trump had promised during the election campaign — to seek partnership with Russia in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Lavrov had met in Bonn in February, which the latter said started the process of “normalisaiton” of bilateral relations.

“We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role,” Mr. Tillerson said on Tuesday in Italy after meeting with American allies in the Syrian conflict. “Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interests longer term,” he said referring to the Iran, Russia, Hezbollah axis that supports the Assad regime.

On the right side

Mr. Spicer was more categorical at his daily briefing on Monday. “…you look at the countries that are with us, it speaks pretty loudly the number of countries that have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this President. Russia, on the other hand, stands with Syria, North Korea and Iran. I think when you contrast the two groups of country sets, it’s pretty clear that we’re on the right side of this issue.”

Mr. Lavrov and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met 14 times last year for an agreement on Syria, but they failed.

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