U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits the Russian capital of Moscow this week, according to the Kremlin.
On Monday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “We have not announced any such meetings, and right now, there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary.” Peskov indicated that Tillerson would follow diplomatic protocol and meet his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Peskov indicated that Tillerson would follow diplomatic protocol and meet his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He didn’t say why Putin was not scheduled to meet with Tillerson. Former Sec. of State John Kerry met Putin many times on his visits to Moscow, in addition to meeting with the Russian foreign minister.
Tillerson himself was granted an audience with Putin when he was chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, having been
awarded the Order of Friendship in 2013 by Putin himself. Many therefore expected the “friends” to meet on this visit, leading some to wonder if tensions over the U.S. missile attack on Syria last week is to blame.
Moscow’s support of the Syrian government has led to hostility since President Trump ordered a missile strike targeting potential chemical weapons stored on a Syrian military base. The strike was in retaliation for a poisonous gas attack on civilians, believed by the U.S. and its allies to have been perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow contends that there is no proof that Assad or the Syrian military was responsible for the attack. They called the U.S. strike an act of aggression and positioned their Navy’s frigate Admiral Grigorovich, armed with cruise missiles, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Believed by some analysts to be a place to find common ground, Syria has now become a major hurdle in the effort to bridge the divide between America and Russia.
“Returning to pseudo-attempts to resolve the crisis by repeating mantras that Assad must step down cannot help sort things out,” Peskov said in response to reports that Tillerson would urge Moscow to halt support of Assad.
Tillerson’s visit was never going to be easy. Many topics of concern divide the United States and Russia, including Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, differing opinions on fighting the Islamic State, and possible violations by Russia of an important arms control treaty.
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