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12 Apr, 2017 08:20

Tillerson & Lavrov meet for talks in Moscow after ‘chemical attack’ & Tomahawk strike in Syria

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins his visit with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. The agenda is expected to focus on spiking Russia-US tensions in light of an alleged chemical attack in Syria and a US missile strike in response.

Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for his first visit to Russia as a US secretary of state.

READ MORE: Tillerson visits Moscow as tensions spike after US strike on Syria base

As the talks began, Sergey Lavrov said it is vital to avoid more airstrikes on Syria, adding that Russia favors joint action to solve the crisis. He also said Russia has repeatedly stated that it wants constructive dialogue with the US on the Syrian crisis.

Russia believes it “ultimately important to prevent any risks of any more of such actions in the future,” Lavrov said referring to the recent US strike on a Syrian base. He also called it an “unlawful attack” against Syria.

Lavrov still said that Tillerson’s visit to Moscow is important from the perspective of creating a broad anti-terrorist front.

“It [the visit] provides an opportunity, as President [Vladimir] Putin and President [Donald] Trump agreed, to frankly and honestly try to clarify the prospects of our cooperation on all the issues, and first of all, the formation of a broad anti-terrorist front,” he said.

Tillerson said he’s looking forward to having an open, candid, and frank exchange of views to better define the relationship between Moscow and Washington. According to the US secretary of state, Wednesday’s meeting comes at a moment when it’s important for the countries to find areas of common interest.

“Our meetings today come at an important moment in our [Russian-US] relationship so that we can further clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interests, even if our tactical approaches may be different,” Tillerson said.

After the first round of talks, Lavrov and Tillerson proceeded to a “working lunch.”

Later on Wednesday the ministers will hold a joint press conference in Russia’s capital.

According to an official statement on the secretary of state’s website, Tillerson will meet Lavrov and other Russian officials to discuss “Ukraine, counterterrorism efforts, bilateral relations and other issues, including the DPRK [North Korea] and Syria.” 

“This trip is part of our effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed, including on next steps in Minsk implementation,” the statement added.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the upcoming talks between Tillerson and Lavrov are hoped to “stabilize and normalize” the relations between the two countries.

“We would like to understand whether Washington intends to resume practical cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorism, including in Syria,” the statement said, adding that the recent US missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat Airbase was “an act of aggression against a sovereign state committed in violation of international law.”

The ministry hopes that Washington will agree to an “objective investigation,” with the involvement of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), into “the chemical poisoning” of Syrians at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

“The West has accused the Syrian Government without good reason, although it is a fact that the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, who are operating in this area, manufactured chemical bombs,” it added.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, hinted that Tillerson may meet the Russian leader.

“As for the meeting, you know that talks between the Russian foreign minister and the [US] secretary of state are underway. If, during the day, they consider reporting the results of these negotiations to the head of state [Putin], we will inform you accordingly... There is a certain likelihood,” Peskov told reporters.

The new US secretary of state’s visit to Russia comes just days after the US fired at least 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase, which is controlled by the Syrian Army.

According to Syrian officials, the strike, which took place on April 7, killed at least six people, including civilians, and wounded several others. The US claims the missile strike was launched in reaction to an alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province, for which Washington blames the Syrian government.

After the Idlib incident, the US said that Russia bore part of the responsibility for the actions of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. The Pentagon has also launched an investigation into Russia’s alleged involvement in the Idlib attack, CNN cited a senior US defense official as saying. 

Russia has condemned the US missile strike and responded by suspending the Memorandum of Understanding on Flight Safety in Syria that was signed in October 2015 to prevent possible mishaps between the Russian and US Air Forces, which are operating independently in the region.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would launch an international inquiry into the Idlib incident. The resolution, which has been proposed by the US, Britain, and France, condemns the attack and calls upon the Syrian government to cooperate with the investigation.