US envoy says Syria's Assad must go after chemical attack
12 Abril, 2017, 20:26
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps out of a plane upon arrival in Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Russia, Tuesday, April 11, 2017. At a minimum, Tillerson will meet Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the two are expected to take questions from reporters.
On Monday, another Russian lawmaker Victor Ozerov said Moscow is not willing to have any military conflict with the USA troops in Syria and its military in the war-torn country is only to support Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in the terror fight.
Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad's enemies. He said the United Nations should first investigate the attack.
Tillerson's trip comes after an American official said the US has drawn a preliminary conclusion that Russian Federation knew in advance of the chemical attack - an allegation that heightens already acute tensions between Washington and Moscow. "We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world", Tillerson said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Tuesday that there might be a three-way meeting later this week in Moscow between officials from Russia, Syria and Iran.
Putin's strained relationship with Trump's predecessor, former President Barack Obama, was well-publicized. It accused both Syria and Russian Federation of attempting to "confuse the world community about who is responsible for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people", both on this occasion and previously. But, he said, the distinction "doesn't much matter to the dead". The Kremlin leader also claimed Washington is planning a new missile launch against Syria, which supposedly would target an area south of the capital, Damascus, "where they [the Americans] are planning to again plant some substance and accuse Syrian authorities" of using chemical weapons.
The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity.
After seeing images of dying children in the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, Trump said he decided a military response was necessary. "We are confident the rebels [fighting Assad's government] don't have sarin".
Syria's government denied any responsibility for the attack, and Russian Federation, which is its strongest ally along with Iran, stood firmly by it.
Syrian government forces battling insurgents in Daraa have dropped several barrel bombs on the southern city, opposition activists said Tuesday, a day after the White House suggested that the use of the crude explosive devices could bring a US response.
The trade of accusations followed a long-set pattern for Syria's civil war.
Russian Federation has insisted it was Syrian rebels - Assad's forces - that were responsible for the chemical weapons.
The State Department tried to manage expectations even before the April 6 USA attack on Al Shayrat airfield in Syria threw a wrench into bilateral relations.
Immediately after the Tomahawk strikes, Russian officials said that use of the so-called "deconfliction channel" between the USA and Russia to ensure the safety of air operations over Syria had been canceled, but they later said that use of the channel had been suspended.
The Trump administration, however, has offered mixed messages about whether Assad must surrender power - and when.
General Mattis said it was clear the "Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it, and executed" the attack. "We know the Syrian regime has Sarin Gas", one official said, speaking on background.
Aerial view of Shayrat airfield in Syria.
Such clarity on Assad's future isn't shared by Russian Federation, which insists that Syria's leadership can not be a matter for outside powers. The Pentagon said on the night of the attacks that the runways deliberately were not targeted since they were easy to fix. The idea is for political talks to follow, but Tillerson acknowledged the lack of progress so far.
It was unclear whether Putin, who once gave Tillerson an "Order of Friendship" award, would grant the visiting American an audience.
A second senior U.S. administration official accused Russian Federation of embarking on a misinformation campaign created to "confuse the world" about last week's alleged attack on Khan Sheikhun.
But Syria's importance for Russia goes far beyond Assad; the warm-water Syrian port of Tartus, Russia's only foreign naval base, is particularly important for Moscow, which has been trying for years to re-establish a military presence in the Middle East it last enjoyed in the 1970s. But Tillerson also said that the top USA priority in the region remains the defeat of Islamic State militants.
The Putin-Tillerson meeting was believed to be the first between the Russian leader and a top member of Mr Trump's administration since the U.S. businessman took office in January.
In response, the USA launched a series of Tomahawk missiles at the airfield from which the Syrian planes used in that bombing raid had taken off, a move officials have described as a proportional response created to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again in the future.