Tillerson should use Russia trip to ‘apologize for spreading less than truth’ – ex-Powell aide
Rex Tillerson has arrived in Moscow for his first official visit as US Secretary of State. On Wednesday he is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov with the Syrian crisis topping the agenda.
Meanwhile, President Putin said Russia has information there could be more chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including in areas near the Syrian capital Damascus.
It comes after a nerve gas attack in Idlib province last Tuesday the West blamed on government forces. Syria's President Assad has strongly denied the accusation.
“It reminds me strongly of the events in 2003 when the US representatives demonstrated at the UN Security Council session the presumed chemical weapons found in Iraq,” he said at a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Moscow.
RT spoke to Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired US Army colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
RT: Vladimir Putin said the US strike on the Syrian army over accusations of a chemical attack remind him of the 2003 US presentation at the UN which led to the invasion of Iraq. As a witness to those events, do you see any similarities?
Lawrence Wilkerson: I see similarities only in the fact that the US government has jumped to a conclusion with regard to the provenance of that particular attack. Let me add I think that I know their motivation for having done so; it was domestic. They wanted to get the whole Russia issue off the domestic agenda, and they succeed majorly in doing that. And it was also international because, let’s face it, up to this point, the US has had no real dog in the fight in terms of hard military power, and now they do. Now they feel they have more leverage if we have political talks which I hope we do because that’s the only way we are ever going to end this tragic civil war. And they are probably making moves right now; I would suspect to gain even more leverage. We all need to pay very close attention to what those moves are because it is a very dangerous situation.
RT: How do you think that is going to play out? Is it going to be more strikes? The Pentagon said it is going to be one op, but the US is inextricably embroiled in this now, isn’t it?
LW: I think we are. And I don’t see how we get away with doing just one op in this case. And I suspect that even now we are doing things - particularly in the Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria - to protect the Kurds from possible Turkish wrath. And also to consolidate their gains in those areas against ISIS in preparation for what you might call the final attack on areas where ISIS has still predominant control and the elimination of ISIS. I see it is moving even further into the Syrian morass in order to get rid of ISIS, but also have some real leverage with regard to the negotiations that inevitably will have to be held in order to end this conflict.
RT:President Putin used the term ‘provocation.' What do you think he means by that? The militants are trying to provoke the West into an intervention?
LW: They’ve been doing that all along. My intelligence sources, which are by the way quite good now that I’ve learned who to go to, both US and international, and the people who I know well, who were in Syria let me know from time to time what is going on with Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, and other groups, that from time to time the US has actually wittingly been supporting, particularly through the CIA. The prominence of some of these actions, these more heinous actions are clearly disputable…Each side has different motivations. I’m not trying to excuse Assad’s brutality in this war, but I’m saying the intelligence about who’s doing what to whom has been very mixed and not very good frankly.
RT: What message is Rex Tillerson bringing to Moscow, do you think?
LW: I hope he’ll tell Sergey Lavrov “Hello, good to see you again.” Because that is one of the smartest diplomats I have ever met in my life... I think the first thing Tillerson ought to do is explain to Sergey the less than truth that Tillerson has been spreading around the world. And that is the Russia was responsible for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks. This is preposterous. I can’t believe we are lying this way. The US Army and its contractors destroyed 600 metric tons of Syrian chemical weapons stocks. The entire operation was under the OPCW and the UN. It wasn’t just Russia that was responsible. Did Bashar Assad hold some chemical weapons back, like VX and sarin? Possibly, that could be the case. But to blame Russia for that failure as it were for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is preposterous. And I hope Tillerson will apologize to Lavrov for that.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.