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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov greeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before an April 12 meeting in Moscow. (Photo: AFP)

US-Russia Tensions Rise as Rex Tillerson Talks of "Low Point" in Nations' Relations

UN ambassadors trade barbs over responsibility for alleged chemical attack in Syria

Andrea Germanos

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that relations between the U.S. and Russia had hit "a low point," while Russia vetoed a western-backed United Nations resolution that would have forced the Syrian government to comply with an investigation into the recent alleged chemical attack.

The resolution was put forth by the U.S., U.K, and France, but Russia objected to a paragraph "stressing Syria's requirement to provide investigators with flight plans and information about air operations on April 4 when Khan Sheikhoun was attacked, names of helicopter squadron commanders, and immediate access to air bases where they believe an attack may have been launched," according to the Associated Press. Bolivia also vetoed the resolution.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said to the UN Security Council: "To my colleagues from Russia—you are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death." She also accused Russia, an ally of Assad, of being "part of the problem" in the war-torn country.

Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov, for his part, said he was "amazed" western powers had already concluded that Assad was behind the attack, as "No one has yet visited the site of the crime."

According to CNN, the Syrian envoy to the U.N., Bashar Ja'afari, said rebels bore responsibility for the chemical attack and accused the U.S. of "deciding to repeat the same bloody, theatrical play that it had staged 14 years ago in this council against Iraq. A play entitled 'the lie of the Iraqi WMDs.'"

As the Security Council meeting was underway, Tillerson was in Moscow where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov criticized the "unlawful attack against Syria" the U.S. took with its cruise missile strikes in response to the alleged chemical attack. "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future," he said. "I will be frank that we have a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous as well as contradictory ideas on a whole plethora of bilateral and international agendas coming from Washington," Lavrov added.

After meeting at the Kremlin with Putin, Tillerson said, "There is a low level of trust between our two countries," adding, "The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot cannot have this kind of relationship."

NPR adds: "At the press conference after that meeting, Lavrov said the two nations agreed that there should be a U.N. investigation into the apparent chemical attack in Syria. He also said Putin opened the door to a restoration of a military hotline between the two countries."

The developments come the same day as the meeting came the same day as U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said the U.S. and Rusia "must find a way to work together," and told the Security Council that "there can only be a political solution to this bloody conflict."

This "moment of crisis," he added, must serve "as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution."

Author and co-founder Norman Solomon also wrote this week that "[d]etente between the United States and Russia will be necessary for bringing peace to Syria," arguing that "[p]eople at the grassroots must lead, pushing and pulling the official leaders to follow."

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