April 12 (UPI) — Vladimir Putin met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow for the first face-to-face meeting between the Russian president and a top Trump administration official.
Moscow officials initially said Putin would not meet with Tillerson.
Details of the meeting between the two were not yet available. In 2013, Putin gave Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, Russia’s Order of Friendship award.
Prior to the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Tillerson to prevent further U.S. bombings on the Syrian regime during a meeting Wednesday in Moscow.
Tillerson is in Russia with the goal to persuade the Kremlin to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson is holding talks with Lavrov amid tensions following two key incidents last week: a suspected chemical attack in Syria where dozens of civilians died and the U.S. bombing of a regime airbase to deter further use of chemical weapons.
The United States blames the Assad regime for the chemical attack.
Ahead of a closed-door meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said he hopes to “further clarify areas of sharp difference, so that we can better understand why these differences exists and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.”
Though Tillerson is working to persuade Moscow to drop Assad — signaling during a G7 meeting earlier this week in Italy that Russia risks becoming irrelevant in the Middle East over its continued support of Assad — Lavrov told Tillerson he wants to understand the real intentions of U.S. President Trump’s administration.
Lavrov suggested both countries should work together, adding that Moscow does “not consider any closed alliances and misalliances productive.”
“It’s very important for us to understand the U.S. position and real intentions of your administration. I hope to achieve progress on this path today,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov said the U.S. bombing of the Syrian base was “unlawful.”
“Most recently, we saw rather alarming steps, when an unlawful attack against Syria was carried out,” Lavrov said. “Russia’s leadership has already voiced its principal assessments in this respect. We believe it is of principal importance to prevent risks of a repeat of such steps in the future.”
The U.S. missile strikes on Friday were the first known direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government since the country’s civil war began in 2011. The Assad regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack April 4 in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province. More than 80 people died and hundreds others were injured.
Russia alleges a Syrian airstrike struck a rebel warehouse containing toxic substances but Western governments, including the United States and the European Union, and Syrian monitoring groups, including the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, accuse forces loyal to Assad of carrying out a chemical attack on a civilian population.
Russia also accused the United States of bombing the base to divert attention from Iraq, where a March airstrike by the U.S.-led international coalition killed about 150 civilians in Mosul.
At the G7 meeting, British and U.S. officials were unable to persuade fellow members to adopt new sanctions against Russia following the chemical attack, of which the Syrian Arab Air Force is accused over Russia’s continued support of Assad’s regime.