Thursday, 25 May, 2017

US intelligence intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts

Russian President Vladimir Putin Russia accuses US of unlawful Syria raid as Tillerson visits
Howard Terry | 21 April, 2017, 00:35

Safronkov said Russia's Foreign Minister asked U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during talks earlier Wednesday in Moscow to jointly request the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons "to immediately put together an independent global mission" to visit Khan Sheikhoun and the air base that the U.S. attacked in retaliation.

President Trump said Wednesday that relations with Russian Federation "may be at an all-time low" following Syria's use of chemical weapons last week and the USA airstrike that followed. As the Federal Bureau of Investigation and multiple congressional committees investigate potential collusion between Russia and Trump's campaign in last year's US election, Trump can point to his hard-line stance as fresh evidence that he's far from beholden to the Russian leader.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his visiting American counterpart Rex Tillerson in Moscow on Wednesday that the United States should never repeat the "unlawful attack against Syria".

Days after that attack, Trump ordered a cruise missile strike that targeted a Syrian air base - a strike that Russian Federation says violated worldwide law.

As much as Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia want the United States to push their agenda in Syria, Trump risks losing his credibility when Tillerson returns red-faced from Moscow. Trump said the attack was in response for an alleged chemical attack that killed over 80 people in Syria last week. "The world's two foremost nuclear powers can not have this kind of relationship", he said in the news conference, adding that Moscow and Washington had agreed to establish a working group to identify problems and improve bilateral relations.

It was unclear whether Putin, who once gave Tillerson an "Order of Friendship" award, would grant the visiting American an audience. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov opened by accusing the US of using "primitive and loutish" rhetoric and went on to emphasize that Russian Federation finds it hard to parse the specifics of USA policy. "I would like to say again that we never saw any facts; anything that would look even remotely like facts [to prove this]".

Following the chemical attack, US President Donald Trump ordered the first airstrike against the Syrian regime in its six-year conflict.

Mr Tillerson said there was no doubt that the attack had been planned and executed by the Syrian regime, which has used chlorine bombs on more than 50 occasions. However, he added that he believed Moscow and Washington have "great potential" to improve their relationship. Russia wants the U.S.to eliminate sanctions on Moscow related to its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The FBI is probing whether Trump's staff engaged in criminal collusion with Russian officials to boost Trump's election chances. We're a very, very strong country.

The U.S. envoy said the two countries "have agreed to establish a working group to address smaller issues and make progress towards stabilizing the relationship, so that we can then address the more serious problems. 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". He was referring to widespread vacancies throughout the top State Department leadership that has fueled a perception in the US that Tillerson and his agency are being sidelined by Trump. -Russian relations with the state television channel Mir before his meeting with Tillerson. He also said Putin opened the door to restoring a military "deconfliction" hotline between the two countries.

The parallels have not gone unnoticed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as USA officials have accused his military of knowing about Assad's recent chemical weapons attack ahead of time and trying to help cover it up.

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