Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has discussed with his American counterpart Rex Tillerson the situation in Syria, following Washington’s missile strike against a Syrian airbase.
According to the Russian foreign ministry, Lavrov warned Tillerson during the conversation on Saturday that Washington played into the hands of terrorists by carrying out Friday night’s attack on Syria’s al-Shayrat airbase.
“An attack on a country whose government fights terrorism, only plays into the hands of extremists and creates additional threats to regional and global security,” the statement said.
US President Donald Trump ordered two US Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the airfield early on Friday, destroying as many as 20 aircraft.
The White House says the attack was in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib Province which killed over 80 civilians on Tuesday. Washington insists that Syrian jets operating from the base conducted the attack.
Lavrov told Tillerson that accusing the Syrian military of using chemical weapons did not correspond to reality, adding that Washington’s claims in this regard were “inaccurate and inconclusive.”
The statement further noted that Lavrov and his American counterpart agreed to continue discussions on Syria in a meeting. Tillerson was expected to hold meetings with Lavrov and other Russian officials in Moscow next week.
The Kremlin had warned the White House in an earlier statement that the attack “has dealt a serious blow to Russia-US relations, which are already in a poor state.”
Tillerson to press Russia
During an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Tillerson slammed Moscow’s military cooperation with the Syrian government in the war against terror groups, but stopped short of accusing the Russians of complicity in the alleged gas attack.
“I don't draw conclusions of complicity at all, but clearly they've been incompetent and perhaps they've just simply been out-maneuvered by the Syrians,” the US secretary said of the Russians.
The United States and its allies have repeatedly used chemical weapons as a pretext to pressure the Syrian government. Damascus volunteered to destroy its chemical stockpile in 2014 following a poisonous attack outside the capital. The process was arranged by Russia and was done under UN supervision.
Tillerson, however, said Russia failed to guarantee that Syria was no more in possession of such weapons.
“Part of the discussions when I visit Moscow next week is to call upon Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian government to fulfill the obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons and why Russia has not been able to achieve that is unclear to me,” Tillerson argued.