Tiller­son still hope­ful amid rows with Rus­sia

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN

Amer­ica’s diplo­mat put the onus on Rus­sia Tues­day to take steps to re­pair flag­ging re­la­tions with the United States, even as he con­ceded that con­gres­sional sanc­tions would pose a new ob­sta­cle. Hold­ing out hope for warmer ties, Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son said he’d meet with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part within days.

In a wide-rang­ing assess­ment of his first six months in of­fice and the first lengthy press brief­ing of his ten­ure, the for­mer ExxonMo­bil oil ex­ec­u­tive:

● re­vealed the U.S. is look­ing at op­tions to en­tice Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro to leave power peace­fully.

● in­sisted the U.S. doesn’t blame China for North Korea’s nu­clear be­hav­ior de­spite the Amer­i­can pres­sure on Bei­jing. He said the U.S. is open to talks with Py­ongyang and is not seek­ing to over­throw the Kim Jong-un regime.

● ar­gued that Iran’s mil­i­tary must leave Syria if the U.S. is to co­op­er­ate with Rus­sia on end­ing the Syr­ian civil war.

● pushed back against per­sis­tent whis­pers in Wash­ing­ton that he is frus­trated in his job, while ad­mit­ting he and Pres­i­dent Trump have dif­fer­ences in some pol­icy ar­eas, in­clud­ing the Iran nu­clear deal.

“It is a very open re­la­tion­ship, and it is one in which I feel quite com­fort­able telling [Mr. Trump] my views,” Mr. Tiller­son said, adding he talks to the pres­i­dent nearly every day. “We have dif­fer­ences, but I think if we’re not hav­ing those dif­fer­ences, I’m not sure that I am serv­ing him. I would tell you the re­la­tion­ship between my­self and the pres­i­dent is good — that’s how I view it any­way.”

It was on Rus­sia where Mr. Tiller­son strained hard­est to point to progress since tak­ing of­fice.

There is lit­tle sign that the U.S. has ful­filled Mr. Trump’s hopes for a new, more co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship between the for­mer Cold War foes, not­ing only mod­est ef­forts in Syria as a sign the na­tions share some com­mon goals. While he said frus­trated Amer­i­cans want the U.S. to get along with the nu­clear-armed power, he did not ad­dress the deep sus­pi­cions at home about the pres­i­dent’s in­ten­tions.

“The sit­u­a­tion is bad, but be­lieve me, it can get worse,” Mr. Tiller­son said, re­count­ing his mes­sage to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin when they met in March. “And it just did.”

Mr. Putin this week or­dered the U.S. to dra­mat­i­cally cut its diplo­matic pres­ence in Rus­sia, so­lid­i­fy­ing the con­clu­sion that a Trump-driven de­tente with Moscow isn’t in the cards. The Rus­sian action came just af­ter Congress voted to slap Moscow with more eco­nomic sanc­tions, and in­cluded new re­quire­ments mak­ing it far harder for Mr. Trump to ease the penal­ties on his own.

“Nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor I are very happy about that,” Mr. Tiller­son said of the sanc­tions bill. “We were clear that we didn’t think that was go­ing to be help­ful to our ef­forts, but that’s the de­ci­sion they made.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son said the onus is on Rus­sia to re­pair re­la­tions with the United States, while ad­mit­ting new sanc­tions may harm such hopes.

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