Rus­sia scoffs at US ul­ti­ma­tum over its sup­port to Al Assad

RE­LA­TIONS WITH WASHINGTON ARE AT THEIR WORST SINCE COLD WAR ENDED — MOSCOW

Gulf News - - FRONTPAGE -

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son ar­rived in Moscow yes­ter­day with an ul­ti­ma­tum for Rus­sia: Side with the US and like­minded coun­tries on Syria, or em­brace Iran, ter­ror group Hezbol­lah and embattled Syr­ian leader Bashar Al Assad.

It wasn’t clear what the pun­ish­ment would be for a Rus­sian gov­ern­ment that has used its mil­i­tary might to help Al Assad and his ar­ray of al­lies score a series of bat­tle­field suc­cesses in their six-year war with Syr­ian op­po­si­tion groups.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin im­me­di­ately showed that he wouldn’t back down, say­ing Rus­sia knew about planned “provo­ca­tions” to blame Syria’s gov­ern­ment for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons. He said the UN should first in­ves­ti­gate the at­tack.

“It re­minds me of the events in 2003 when US en­voys to the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil were demon­strat­ing what they said were chem­i­cal weapons found in Iraq,” Putin told re­porters yes­ter­day. “We have seen it all al­ready.” Re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the US are at “their worst” since the Cold War ended, Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry said yes­ter­day.

Tiller­son is in the Rus­sian cap­i­tal to meet with Rus­sian of­fi­cials about the Syria civil war. It is the first of­fi­cial trip to Rus­sia by a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cab­i­net. It’s un­clear if Putin and Tiller­son will meet.

Be­fore head­ing to Rus­sia, Tiller­son told re­porters that Moscow had ei­ther failed to take se­ri­ously its obli­ga­tion to rid Syria of chem­i­cal weapons, or had been in­com­pe­tent. But, he said, the dis­tinc­tion “doesn’t much mat­ter to the dead.”

Three-way talks are planned soon in Moscow be­tween the for­eign min­is­ters of Rus­sia, Syria and Iran, Rus­sian for­eign min­istry’s spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said.

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son car­ried a uni­fied mes­sage from world pow­ers to Moscow yes­ter­day, de­nounc­ing Rus­sian sup­port for Syria and tak­ing up Amer­ica’s tra­di­tional role as leader of the West on be­half of Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Tiller­son met for­eign min­is­ters from the Group of Seven ad­vanced economies in Italy. They were joined by their coun­ter­parts from Tur­key, the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Jor­dan and Qatar for a spe­cial meet­ing on Syria. Syria has been cat­a­pulted to the top of the in­ter­na­tional agenda since a poi­son gas at­tack killed 87 peo­ple a week ago.

West­ern coun­tries blame Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad for the gas at­tack, and Trump re­sponded by fir­ing cruise mis­siles at a Syr­ian air base. That has put his ad­min­is­tra­tion in open dis­pute with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who has stood firmly by Moscow’s ally Al Assad, who de­nies blame.

Tiller­son said Rus­sia must choose be­tween align­ing it­self with the US and like-minded coun­tries or em­brac­ing Al Assad, Iran and the mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah

‘Un­re­li­able part­ner’

“It is clear to us the reign of the Al Assad fam­ily is com­ing to an end,” Tiller­son told re­porters be­fore de­part­ing the G7 meet­ing for Moscow. “We hope that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment con­cludes that they have aligned them­selves with an un­re­li­able part­ner in Bashar Al Assad.”

He said Rus­sia had failed in its role as spon­sor of a 2013 deal un­der which Al Assad promised to give up his chem­i­cal arse­nal.

“These agree­ments stip­u­lated Rus­sia as the guar­an­tor of a Syria free of chem­i­cal weapons,” Tiller­son said.

“It is un­clear whether Rus­sia failed to take this obli­ga­tion se­ri­ously and whether Rus­sia has been in­com­pe­tent. But this dis­tinc­tion doesn’t much mat­ter to the dead. We can’t let this hap­pen again.”

In a state­ment re­leased be­fore Tiller­son was due to ar­rive, Rus­sia said it hoped its meet­ings with him would be pro­duc­tive but it was con­cerned about a num­ber of ar­eas of US pol­icy, in­clud­ing on North Korea, Libya and Ye­men as well as Syria.

The sec­re­tary of state’s role as mes­sen­ger for a united G7 position is a turn­ing point for Trump, who in the past alarmed al­lies by voic­ing scep­ti­cism about the value of US sup­port for tra­di­tional friends, while call­ing for closer ties with Moscow.

Tiller­son him­self is a former boss of the ExxonMo­bil oil com­pany which has gi­gan­tic projects in Rus­sia. He was awarded Rus­sia’s “Or­der of Friend­ship” by Putin in 2013.

He is due to meet Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov in Moscow to­day.

On Mon­day, Trump dis­cussed Syria by tele­phone with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

No sanc­tions now

“I think we have to show a united position and that in these ne­go­ti­a­tions we should do all we can to get Rus­sia out of Al Assad’s cor­ner, at least to the point that they are ready to par­tic­i­pate in find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion,” Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel said on Mon­day.

The G7 group of na­tions has failed to reach an agree­ment over threat­en­ing new sanc­tions against Rus­sia and Syria over last week’s chem­i­cal at­tack.

Sanc­tions against Rus­sia and Syria will not be put in place un­til af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the chem­i­cal at­tack, Bri­tish gov­ern­ment sources said.

AFP

Tiller­son ar­rives at Vnukovo II air­port in Moscow, yes­ter­day. Ear­lier, he told a G7 for­eign min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Italy that Rus­sia should re­think its al­liance with Al Assad.

AP

Shaikh Ab­dul­lah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, US Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son and other for­eign min­is­ters and their staff dur­ing a meet­ing of for­eign min­is­ters of the G7 in Lucca, Italy, yes­ter­day.

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