WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – Amid escalating claims over Syria, a much-anticipated sit-down between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov got underway Wednesday.
The Russian minister opened the talks by saying the U.S. missile strike on Syria was ‘unlawful’.
“We also saw some very troubling things regarding the attack on Syria,” said Lavrov. “We believe it fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again in the future.”
Tillerson responded by acknowledging how far apart they were.
“We can further clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interest, even when our tactical approaches may be different,” said Tillerson.
The Secretary of State’s mission to Moscow comes as President Donald Trump forcefully denounced Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in a televised interview.
“Frankly, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is backing a person that’s truly an evil person,” he said adding that Assad is a war criminal and bad for Russia.
Putin has dismissed U.S. accusations against Assad, comparing them to the weapons of mass destruction claim before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He claims Assad got rid of his chemical weapons and the Syrian government was framed for the recent attack which left more than 80 people dead.
The White House declassified a report detailing evidence from U.S. intelligence and other sources which accuse Putin of a cover-up intended to “confuse” and “obfuscate” on behalf of the Assad regime.
Despite rising tensions and heated rhetoric, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he believes Moscow will eventually come around.
“I’m confident that the Russians will act in their best interests, and there’s nothing in their best interest in letting this situation go out of control,” said Mattis.
Mattis added that the administration’s goal in Syria was getting rid of ISIS, not settling the country’s civil war.
President Trump is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday. They’re expected to discuss Russia, Syria and the Ukraine before holding a joint news conference.