Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise sit-down. It wasn’t planned, and was only confirmed at the last minute.
Previously, Tillerson and Putin knew each other from the latter’s days as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Putin even granted him a friendship honor in the past.
Wednesday, Tillerson met with top Kremlin officials, including President Putin. He was hoping they could come together and defuse the tensions building up over the Syrian crisis.
But, in the end, the U.S. diplomat said that the relationship between America and Syria, America and Russia, America and Iran, etc… are still “at a low point.”
A day of discussions went on between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Putin. When it was over, Tillerson and his Moscow counterpart said that they do have one mutual regional interest. And, that’s to defeat ISIS.
…while acknowledging that they have badly conflicting goals on a rash of other critical issues including Russian involvement in Ukraine, Russian meddling in the election and whether Syrian dictator Bashar Assad must go.
“There is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson said. “The world’s two foremost nuke powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”
Little about their hours-long meeting was revealed, but the fact that Putin granted Tillerson an audience at all — the men hadn’t been publicly scheduled to meet — was interpreted as a hopeful sign.
Putin and Tillerson knew each other previously, from Tillerson’s days as Exxon Mobil CEO, with the Russian leader even granted the ex-exec with a friendship honor.
Hours before Tillerson’s visit, however, he ripped into the White House, saying that relations between Moscow and Washington had worsened since President Trump took office.
“It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded,” Putin said in an interview broadcast Wednesday by state television channel Mir.
Putin also claimed Syria — its largest ally in the Middle East — had complied with an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons “so far as we know.”’
Trump, meanwhile, struck back in pre-taped interview airing Wednesday morning, calling Assad an “animal” and accusing Putin of “backing a person that’s truly an evil person.”
“I think it’s very bad for Russia. I think it’s very bad for mankind,” Trump told Fox Business News.
He added, however, that the U.S. had no plans to become more deeply involved in Syria and only launched a strike last week because of the deadly chemical weapons attack.
“Are we going to get involved with Syria? No,” Trump said. “But if I see them using gas…we have to do something.”
The bitter back-and-forth on Wednesday marked just the latest tense exchange between the two Cold War foes.
On Tuesday, Putin had claimed the U.S. would make up the existence of additional chemical weapons in Syria to justify further military action against the war-torn country’s regime, without providing any evidence.
That prompted the U.S. to declassify and share intelligence they said proved the Kremlin was trying to cover up the sarin gas attack.