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Russia-U.S. relations put to test after strike on Syria

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨Xinhua

04-13-2017 16:47 BJT

WASHINGTON, April 13 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the relations between the United States and Russia "may be at an all-time low."

The United States is "not getting along with Russia at all," Trump said at a press conference at the White House.

Trump said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had completed a successful meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, where "things went pretty well." But he said it was an open question where relations go from here.

"It would be a fantastic thing" if the two nations got along better, Trump said, but cautioned that "it may be just the opposite."

Any hope that the Trump administration is poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russia has been dashed after the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airbase last Thursday.

At the press conference, Trump, who frequently called for warmer ties with Putin during his presidential election campaign, defended his decision to launch 59 missiles at the Syrian airbase in response to the alleged chemical attack the United States has said the Syrian government should be blamed for.

"It can't be a worst sight. And it shouldn't be allowed. That's a butcher," Trump said. "So, I felt we had to do something about it. I have absolutely no doubt we did the right thing. And it was very, very successfully done."

When asked whether Russia had prior knowledge about the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons, Trump said it's "possible," but "unlikely" that Russia had known in advance of Syria's plan to launch a chemical weapons attack on its own citizens.

Trump's grim assessment of U.S.-Russia ties came shortly after Tillerson struck a similar tone after meeting with Putin in Moscow.

"There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship," he said at a news conference, adding that Moscow and Washington had agreed to establish a working group to identify problems and improve bilateral relations.

PUTIN-TRUMP HONEYMOON TURNS SOUR

Putin has condemned the U.S. military assault on a Syrian airfield, saying that the move represents an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.

Earlier in an interview broadcast on Wednesday before the meeting with Tillerson, Putin said that mutual trust between Russia and the United States, especially on the military level, had eroded in the first few months of Trump's presidency.

During Tillerson's visit to Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave the top U.S. diplomat an earful of criticism over the U.S. strike.

Calling for an "objective and unbiased probe" into the chemical attack in Syria, Lavrov said that Russia has no intention to shield anyone responsible for the incident and repeated Russia's view that the Syrian government was not responsible for the attack.

Russia on late Wednesday vetoed a United Nations (UN) resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation into the suspected chemical attack, saying that Moscow had consistently expressed its "categorical disagreement" with the draft resolution, which led to further criticism from the West, including the United States.

"The international community has spoken. Russia now has a lot to prove," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.

Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East intelligence office, told Xinhua that the idea of Washington and Moscow reaching a consensus is highly unlikely.

"U.S. and Russian interests, whether in Syria, toward NATO, human rights, etc. are far too different despite President Trump's earlier interest in an understanding," White said.

"One side inevitably would have to make big sacrifices inconsistent with some of its policy interests, but Trump and Vladimir Putin are two...assertive personalities who instinctively preserve their powerful images. In some ways, they are too much alike," added the expert.

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