International

US and Russia struggle to overcome rifts in Moscow

MOSCOW: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson battled to overcome differences with his Russian opposite number Wednesday, but they remained split over an alleged chemical attack in Syria after talks in Moscow.   

“Despite the quantity of existing problems… there are considerable prospects for joint work,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after talks with Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Russia is open to this, open to dialogue with the US in all different areas, not only to dialogue but to joint action aimed at results in the areas where this corresponds to the interests of both countries.”

Tillerson, who met with Putin earlier Wednesday, deplored the “low level of trust” between the countries, whose relations have dropped to a post-Cold War low over Ukraine and Syria.

“The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” Tillerson said.

Lavrov said both sides were set on leading an “uncompromising fight against international terrorism”.

He said Moscow was ready to resume a deal with Washington to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace as the two countries lead separate bombing campaigns.

“Today the president confirmed our readiness to return to its implementation on the understanding that the original aims of the air forces of the American coalition are reaffirmed, namely the fight with IS and Al-Nusra,” Lavrov said.

The deal was suspended after US strikes against a Syrian airbase following last week’s suspected chemical attack in Idlib province, in an act Moscow labelled “aggression against a sovereign state”.

Lavrov however said that the two sides still “diverge” over their evaluation of the alleged chemical attack, which Washington has blamed squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite initial hopes in Moscow of better ties with the US under President Donald Trump, the two powers have descended into a furious war of words over the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun and the retaliatory US strike against the forces Kremlin ally Assad.

Putin admitted that relations have worsened in the three months that Trump has been in office.

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