Putin Will Not Meet Tillerson In Russia, As Confusion Grows Over US Policy Toward Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, left, attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and Exxon Mobil corporation at the Black Sea port of Tuapse, Russia, June 15, 2012. (AP/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and then-acting Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, left, attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and Exxon Mobil corporation at the Black Sea port of Tuapse, Russia, June 15, 2012. (AP/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev)

While the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seem unable to agree on what the right policy is regarding Syria and specifically Assad, with the former saying a top priority of Trump is to oust Assad, while the latter claimed over the weekend that the Islamic State is the key concern while Assad’s fate and that the people of Syria should decide Assad’s fate, Russia is not waiting for clarification.

On Monday morning, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits Moscow later this week. He will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov however, Peskov said.

Commenting on U.S. missile strikes against Syria last week, Peskov said the action had shown Washington’s total unwillingness to cooperate on Syria. He said renewed calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down would not help to resolve the crisis.

“There is no other alternative,” to peace talks in Geneva and Astana, Peskov said.

Meanwhile Tillerson, who on Monday was in Italy for a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Tuscany, said the United States will hold responsible anyone who commits crimes against humanity, just days after the U.S. military unexpectedly attacked Syria. We assume US drone operators, whose actions have caused thousands of innocents deaths over the past decade, will be exempts from this “responsibility.”

While prior to the April 7 missile strikes President Donald Trump had indicated he would be less interventionist than his predecessors and willing to overlook human rights abuses if it was in U.S. interests, Tillerson said the United States would not let such crimes go unchallenged. “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” he told reporters while commemorating a 1944 German Nazi massacre in Sant’Anna di Stazzema.

As Reuters adds, European ministers are eager to hear whether Washington is now committed to overthrowing Assad, who is backed by Russia. They also want the United States to put pressure on Moscow to distance itself from Assad.

Once again reiterating the policy confusion over Syria, Tillerson said during the weekend that the defeat of Islamic State remained the U.S. priority, while the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that “regime change” in Syria was also a priority for Trump.

The mixed messages have confused and frustrated European allies, who are eager for full U.S. support for a political solution based on a transfer of power in Damascus.

“The Americans say they agree, but there’s nothing to show for it behind (the scenes). They are absent from this and are navigating aimlessly in the dark,” said a senior European diplomat, who declined to be named.

Italy, Germany, France and Britain have invited foreign ministers from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar to sit down with the G7 group on Tuesday morning to discuss Syria. All oppose Assad’s rule.

The foreign ministers’ discussions in Tuscany will prepare the way for a leaders’ summit in Sicily at the end of May where foreign ministers will also talk about growing tensions with North Korea, as the United States moves a navy strike group near the Korean peninsula amid concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

They will also discuss Libya. Italy is hoping for vocal support for a United Nations-backed government in Tripoli which has struggled to establish its authority even in the city, let alone in the rest of the violence-plagued north African country. The Trump administration has not yet defined a clear policy and Rome fears Washington may fall into step with Egypt and Russia, which support general Khalifa Haftar, a powerful figure in eastern Libya.


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