Tillerson says US-Russia relations are at a 'low point,' calls for improvement

Key Points
  • Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed that relations between the United States and Russia could be improved.
  • The two countries remain divided on the culpability of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad's regime in the recent chemical attack.
  • U.S.-Russia relations have grown tense in the wake of the subsequent U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base last week.
Sec. Tillerson: Current state of U.S.-Russian relations at a 'low point'

U.S.-Russia relations are at a "low point" and need to be improved, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday in a joint news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Tillerson said he had a "productive," two-hour meeting earlier in the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

"I expressed the view that the current state of U.S.-Russia relations is at a low point and there is a low level of trust between our countries. The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship," Tillerson said.

On his first visit to Moscow as Presdient Donald Trump's secretary of State, Tillerson said the two countries are unified on issues like stabilizing Syria and tackling international terrorism. He said, however, that "until full progress is made under the Minsk accords, the situation in Ukraine will remain an obstacle to improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia."

The 2016 Minsk agreement was an attempt to stop the fighting in Ukraine between pro-Moscow rebels and the Ukrainian government.

Tensions between the United States and Russia have grown in the wake of the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base last week. Trump ordered the strike, accusing the Moscow-backed regime of Syria's President Bashar Assad of the chemical attack that killed dozens, including children.

Senior national security officials briefed reporters Tuesday on declassified intelligence regarding the chemical attack, saying the symptoms of the victims was consistent with exposure to the nerve agent sarin.

The officials rejected Russia's claim that terrorists or rebels carried out the attack. They said that they were confident that terrorists do not have access to sarin.

Tillerson doubled down on these conclusions, saying "this is just the latest of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and notwithstanding their use on more than 50 occasions of chlorine bombs and cluster bombs and other types of weapons that are intended to maim and kill in the most horrific ways."

The Russian foreign minister cautioned that the two countries should learn from history, criticizing Western countries for being "fixated on eliminating this or that dictator, authoritarian or totalitarian leader."

Lavrov acknowledged that "it's quite evident that this is a topic with regard to which we have differences of opinion." The Russian foreign minister reiterated calls for an investigation and a "fact-finding mission." He said Russia is "not convinced" of accusations leveled against the Syrian regime.

Russia's relationship with the U.S. has deteriorated since Trump assumed the Oval Office, Putin said in an interview aired Wednesday.

"One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated," Putin said, according to translated remarks by the Kremlin.

Putin added that Syria had given up its chemical weapons stocks, Reuters reported.