Lavrov warns US over Syria as talks begin

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Moscow, April 12 (IANS) Tense comments and warnings from Russia set the tone on Wednesday for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he attempted to persuade Moscow to abandon its support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov began the meeting with Tillerson in Moscow with a warning for the US — do not strike the Syrian regime again — after last week’s missile strike plunged US-Russian relations to one of the lowest points since the Cold War.

It was an icy start to the long-awaited meeting, that began with the two men entering a conference room making very little eye contact, CNN reported.

Lavrov said that Russia “saw some very troubling actions regarding the attack on Syria”.

“We believe it is fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again,” he said.

He also complained about the mixed messages coming out of Washington on the Trump administration’s policy on Syria, with the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, making clear Assad should have no future in Syria as Tillerson took a softer line.

“I will be frank, we have a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous and contradictory ideas on the international agenda in Washington,” Lavrov said after shaking hands with Tillerson and sitting down at a conference table.

“And I’d like to say, apart from words, we saw some very alarming actions regarding the unlawful attack in Syria.”

“It is of paramount importance to avert risks and recurrences of such actions in the future,” he added.

Tillerson took a more diplomatic tone in his opening remarks, saying that he hoped to clarify “areas of common objectives, areas of common interests, even when our tactical approaches may be different.”

“And to further clarify areas of sharp difference, so we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.”

Tillerson also said it was important the two governments maintain open lines of communication, CNN reported.

The two countries traded barbs over last week’s chemical attack in Syria, which killed 89 people, and prompted the US to carry out its first strike against the Syrian regime in the six-year conflict.

The White House on Tuesday accused Russia and Syria of carrying out a confusion campaign over who was responsible for the chemical attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made comparisons between the US response and its 2003 intervention in Iraq, calling it a “tedious” story.

The chemical attack deaths have been widely blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, denied the regime carried out the attack.

–IANS

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