Tillerson set to meet with Russian foreign minister

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow for a big day of meetings with top Russian officials Wednesday.

Amid a fresh war of words over who is responsible for last week’s chemical attack in Syria, Tillerson is set to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two are expected to discuss the American strikes in Syria and the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tillerson blamed Russia for being either “incompetent” or “complicit” in the chemical attack, while the White House accused Russia of trying to cover up the Assad regime’s responsibility Tuesday.

The Russians have responded with their own harsh rhetoric, with President Vladimir Putin comparing the accusations from Washington to its claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before invading in 2003 and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warning the U.S. is “on the brink of military conflict with Russia.”

Still, there is some hope that Tillerson and Lavrov can speak frankly behind closed doors and maybe reach some sort of agreement -- as the two sides still try to figure out what the other wants in Syria.

“He’ll raise the question of where Russia stands and whether it is going to remain supportive of a regime that is carrying out such brutal attacks on innocent civilians,” State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday. “He posed the question very succinctly earlier today -- ‘What side of history does Russia want to be on?’ And I think that’s a decision it needs to make.”

There are no plans yet for Tillerson to meet with Putin, but the secretary of state remains open to it, according to the State Department.

“That’s a decision for the Kremlin to make and to announce, and up till now, we’ve not seen such an offer extended,” said Toner Tuesday, before clarifying, “Now, it could come tomorrow.”



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