No facts suggest Russian Federation meddling in United States election: Lavrov

Malcolm Fuller
April 14, 2017

In an exclusive interview with AFP in Damascus - his first since the alleged April 4 attack prompted a United States air strike on Syrian forces - Assad said his army had given up all its chemical weapons and that Syrian military power was not affected by the USA strike.

But in a reversal from earlier this week, Tillerson appeared to walk back previous claims of Russian complicity at a press conference following the meeting: "Assad has brought (this) upon himself", he said, adding that the US has no "firm information" that Russia was involved in any way in the chemical weapons attack.

They include - as Tillerson mentioned in Moscow - a U.S. belief that Russian hackers and propagandists interfered in the USA presidential election.

But neither side cited concrete avenues of cooperation, beyond establishing a working group to address what Tillerson called "smaller issues".

Tillerson said Syria's government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict.

"Right now, we're not getting along with Russian Federation at all".

United States intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help then candidate Donald Trump win.

Tillerson said he wanted "a very open, candid and frank exchange" with Lavrov.

The first visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official took place amid heightened tensions after the USA accused the Assad government of a chemical-weapons attack in Idlib province and said Russian Federation was covering up the atrocity. "We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russian Federation". Any expectations of an easy rapport have crashed into reality amid the nasty back-and-forth over Syria and ongoing U.S. investigations into Russia's activity connected to the USA presidential election.

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The West has accused Assad's forces of carrying out the attack in Idlib province that shocked the world.

Assad has denied his government was behind last week's chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people.

Allegations of collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates also have weakened Trump's ability to make concessions to Russia in any agreement, lest he be accused of rewarding bad behavior.

"Our meeting today comes at an important moment in our relationship so that we can further clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interest - even where our tactical approaches may be different - and further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist", he said.

A USA defense official says intelligence shows a Russian drone flew over the hospital in Idlib that was treating victims of the chemical attack, prior to the site being later bombed by an unknown aircraft. "Our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end", Tillerson said, repeating what he had told reporters in Italy a day earlier. "I do not know who saw them". In an interview Tuesday with Fox Business Network, Trump said the USA is "not going into Syria" and said last week's missile strike was a direct response to images of dying children he saw after the sarin attack.

Western leaders backed the USA action, saying Assad had brought it on himself. "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future".

Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday.

Johnson had used talks in London with John Kerry, the then USA secretary of state, to push in vain for a no-bombing zone over Syria.

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