Trump declares US-Russia relations may be at ‘all-time low’

Trump declares US-Russia relations may be at 'all-time low'

WASHINGTON — Laying bare deep and dangerous divisions on Syria and other issues, President Donald Trump declared that U.S. relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low.” His top diplomat offered a similarly grim assessment from the other side of the globe after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

“Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said flatly during a White House news conference Wednesday. It was stark evidence that the president is moving ever further from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.

Only weeks ago, it appeared that Trump, who praised Putin throughout the U.S. election campaign, was poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russia. But any such expectations have crashed into reality amid the nasty back-and-forth over Syria and ongoing U.S. investigations into Russia’s alleged interference in America’s U.S. presidential election.

“It’d be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia,” Trump said. But he clearly wasn’t counting on it.

“That could happen, and it may not happen,” he said. “It may be just the opposite.”

Not long before Trump spoke in Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a similar tone after an almost two-hour meeting with Putin, saying the two countries had reached a “low point” in relations.

Trump, who last week ordered airstrikes on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, was asked Wednesday if Syria could have launched the attack without Russia’s knowledge. Trump said it was “certainly possible” though “probably unlikely.”

The newly hardened view of Moscow comes as the president has tried to shake suspicions about the motives behind his campaign calls for warmer relations. As the FBI and multiple congressional committees investigate possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, the president and his aides can now point to his hard-line stance on Syrian President Bashar Assad as evidence he’s willing to stand up to Putin.

More than 80 people were killed in what the U.S. has described as a nerve gas attack that Assad’s forces undoubtedly carried out. Russia says rebels were responsible for whatever chemical agent was used, which the Trump administration calls a disinformation campaign.

Not long before Trump spoke, Russia vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution that would have condemned the chemical weapons attack and demanded a speedy investigation.

The dim view of U.S.-Russian ties from both Trump and Tillerson reflected the former Cold War foes’ inability to forge better relations, as Trump until recently has advocated.

Allegations of collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates also have weakened Trump’s ability to make concessions to Russia on any issue, lest he be accused of rewarding bad behaviour. Russia wants the U.S. to eliminate sanctions on Moscow related to its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Until the chemical attack, the Trump administration had sought to step back from the U.S. position that Assad should leave power. But Tillerson repeated the administration’s new belief that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Beyond Syria, Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election also hovered over what was the first face-to-face encounter between Putin and any Trump administration Cabinet member.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted U.S. claims that it has “irrefutable evidence” of election interference.

“We have not seen a single fact, or even a hint of facts,” he said. “I do not know who saw them. No one showed us anything, no one said anything, although we repeatedly asked to produce the details on which these unfounded accusations lie.”

He also rejected American claims of certain evidence that Assad ordered the chemical attack.

Still, Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings. He said working groups would be established to improve U.S.-Russian ties and identify problems. He said the two sides would also discuss disagreements on Syria and how to end the country’s six-year civil war.

But such hopes appeared optimistic as the diplomats outlined their sharply diverging views on Syria. Tillerson said Syria’s government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict. And he suggested that possible war crimes charges could be levied against the Syrian leader. Russia has never publicly acknowledged any such attacks by Assad’s forces and has tried for the past 18 months to help him expand his authority in Syria.

The civil war is separate from the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State group in the north of the country.

While the most immediate U.S.-Russian dispute concerns culpability for the chemical weapons, broader disagreements over everything from Ukraine to Russia’s support for once-fringe candidates in European elections are among other sore points.

Tillerson was greeted frostily in the Russian capital as Lavrov began their meeting Wednesday by demanding to know America’s “real intentions.”

“We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria,” Lavrov said, referring to the 59 Tomahawk missiles Trump launched at an air base to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. “We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future.”

Trump and others have indeed threatened similar action. But in a Fox Business Network interview, the U.S. president said he wouldn’t intervene militarily against Assad unless the Syrian leader resorts to using weapons of mass destruction again. “Are we going to get involved with Syria? No,” Trump said. But, he added, “I see them using gas … we have to do something.”

___

Lederman reported from Moscow.

___

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Vivian Salama And Josh Lederman, The Associated Press

Just Posted

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Susan Simmons begins a 24-hour swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back

The MS Athlete and ultra-marathon swimmer wants to be the first person to make the journey

New Victoria mayoral candidate, three more council candidates step forward

Four people from NewCouncil.ca jump into the race for the Oct. 2018 municipal election

PHOTOS: Tour de Victoria takes off

1,800 cyclists took off in the Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria for a city-wide loop

Vancouver Island woman to attempt historic swim across Juan de Fuca Strait today

Ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons to attempt to swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back

Oak Bay brothers scoop 10 kg of poop from park paths in 30 mins

Family picks up dog poo to give back, inspire others to be more responsible

Five things to do in Greater Victoria this weekend

Puppy yoga, horses, cars, water guns and more make up this weekend’s list of events to see

RCMP looking for missing Duncan teen

Dallas Macleod, 18, was last seen on Aug. 10

Evacuation order issued in Island village due to “risk of falling debris”

Fire continues to threaten town’s only access road

Lions give up late TD in 24-23 loss to Argos

B.C. falls to 3-5, fumbling away last-minute chance in Toronto

Eagle tree cut down legally a 1st for B.C. city

Planned eagle preserve ‘a first for City of Surrey’

Smoky skies like a disappearing act for sights, monuments around B.C.

Haze expected to last the next several days, Environment Canada said

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday following a short illness

Most Read