President Donald Trump's administration accused Russian Federation on Tuesday of trying to shield Syria's government from blame for a deadly gas attack, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brought a Western message to Moscow condemning its support for President Bashar al-Assad.
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Since Trump took office in January, he has been confronted by European allies who have fear his administration will go easy on Russian Federation.
The agenda for the meeting wasn't announced.
His comments, aired Wednesday on Fox Business News, come less than a week after Trump ordered a retaliatory strike on Syria based on USA evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked civilians with chemical weapons. The U.S. president also defended his Russian counterpart when the Fox News host called him a killer.
The meeting was steeped in geopolitical intrigue, with neither country saying ahead of time if it would take place or not.
Tillerson's visit to Moscow comes amid a period of significant tension in the bilateral relationship due to the crisis in Ukraine, the buildup and exercising of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russian military forces in the common border area between the alliance's easternmost members and Russia, and Russian meddling in the US election. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world's worst refugee crisis. It denied preferring Trump to his Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton, during the election campaign and said it would judge his administration by its actions rather than its words.
"I think it was Russia", Trump said, adding that Putin "should not be doing it". "We believe it is of principal importance to prevent risks of a repeat of such steps in the future".
It was an ominous start to Tillerson's visit. Tillerson conceded the two world powers had "sharp differences" that have obstructed cooperation but voiced optimism that their talks could narrow those differences. "How do you know that?" he added. But in a Fox Business Network interview, the US president said he wouldn't intervene militarily against Assad unless the Syrian leader resorts to using weapons of mass destruction again. Turkey has said tests showed sarin gas was used.
He also warned the USA against staging a repeat of its missile attack against Syria.
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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has begun his two-day visit to Moscow, a trip that was initially expected to highlight the White House's desire for better relations with Russian Federation. "This is a critical moment- we must demonstrate that subterfuge and false facts hold no weight, that excuses by those shielding their allies re making the world a more unsafe place, and the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons will not be permitted to continue".
"It is clear to us the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end", Tillerson told reporters in Italy.
Russian Federation and Syria have been pulling stories out of every corner to fabricate false narratives about the chemical weapons attack in order to put the blame on other parties and off of themselves, according to a recent unclassified White House report.
"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person", Trump said, referring to Assad.
"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a frightful relationship with Russian Federation. I think it's very bad for mankind".
Trump even criticized Putin on Wednesday, something he has largely left to top aides over the last several days.
"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.
Using the incident as a pretext, U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean launched a barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles against Shayrat airbase in Syria's Homs province on April 7. Russian Federation says rebels were responsible for whatever chemical agent was found, which the Trump administration calls a disinformation campaign.
The US claims the strike destroyed 20% of Syria's operational aircraft, a figure disputed by Russia's Defense Ministry. The health minister in Turkey, which treated numerous attack's victims and conducted autopsies on others, said Tuesday that test results conducted on victims confirmed sarin gas was used.