Trump says US-Russia relations at “all-time low”
13 April 2017 – With tensions rising over Syria and other issues, President Donald Trump said last night that U.S. relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low” as he moved ever further away from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.
“Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said flatly during a White House news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Soltenberg.
It was a grim assessment that echoed the words of Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left an almost two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow declaring the countries had reached a “low point” in relations.
Trump said Tillerson had completed a successful meeting with Putin, where “things went pretty well.” But he said it was an open question where relations go from here. He said “it would be a fantastic thing” if the two nations got along better but cautioned that “it may be just the opposite.”
Could Syria have launched the chemical weapons attack with Russia’s advance knowledge? Trump said it was “certainly possible” though “probably unlikely.”
The less-than-positive assessments of relations by both Trump and Tillerson reflected the former Cold War foes’ inability to forge greater cooperation, as Trump until recently has advocated.
More than 80 people were killed in what the U.S. has described as a nerve gas attack that Assad’s forces undoubtedly carried out. Russia says rebels were responsible for whatever chemical agent was found, which the Trump administration calls a disinformation campaign.
The Moscow news conference came after Putin met Tillerson for the first time since Trump took office. The diplomats know each other well from Tillerson’s days as Exxon Mobil CEO. Putin had even honored Tillerson with a friendship award.
Beyond Syria, Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election also hovered over what was the first face-to-face encounter between Putin and any Trump administration Cabinet member.
Lavrov blasted U.S. claims that it has “irrefutable evidence” of election interference.
“We have not seen a single fact, or even a hint of facts,” he said. “I do not know who saw them. No one showed us anything, no one said anything, although we repeatedly asked to produce the details on which these unfounded accusations lie.”
He also rejected American claims of incontrovertible evidence that Assad ordered the chemical attack.
Still, Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings. He said working groups would be established to improve U.S.-Russian ties and identify problems. He said the two sides would also discuss disagreements on Syria and how to end the country’s six-year civil war.