The Citizen (KZN)

US-Russia ties at risk over Syria

MOSCOW IS COMPLICIT IN REGIME’S CHEMICAL ATTACKS – TOP US OFFICIAL Any further chemical assault ‘is going to be clearly very damaging to the countries relations’.

- Washington

The United States on Sunday stepped up pressure on Russia to rein in the Syrian regime, warning that any further chemical attacks would be “very damaging” to their relationsh­ip and suggesting there can be no peace while President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers took to Sunday television talk shows to set the stage for a diplomatic confrontat­ion in Moscow when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives today for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

It will be their first face-to-face encounter since US cruise missiles slammed into a Syrian air base early on Friday Damascus time in retaliatio­n for a suspected sarin gas attack on April 4 that killed at least 87 civilians in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US had made a “strategic mistake”, vowing Iran “will not leave the field... in the face of threats”. And a joint operations centre in Damascus that includes Iran, Russia and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants threatened reprisals. “We will react firmly to any aggression against Syria and to any infringeme­nt of red lines, whoever carries them out,” it said.

Meanwhile, US-led coalition forces and Syrian rebels thwarted a significan­t Islamic State (IS) group attack on their base near the Jordanian border on Saturday. The coalition said the attack on the AtTanf Garrison, a remote outpost used by elite US and British forces, was a complex one involving a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and a ground assault and suicide vests by up to 30 IS fighters.

Tillerson said the chemical attack was preceded by two others in March. The presence of Russian advisers at the airfield used to launch the attack has raised questions. “Absolutely they’re complicit,” said Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligen­ce committee.

Tillerson warned that if Syria carried out any further chemical attacks “that is going to be clearly very damaging to US-Russian relations”. Moscow has sought to deflect blame from ally Assad over the incident and says Syrian jets struck a rebel arms depot where “toxic substances” were being put inside bombs. – AFP

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