The Latest: Trump says US-Russian ties at 'all-time low'

AP News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2017 4:46 PM
The Latest: Trump says US-Russian ties at 'all-time low'

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Moscow (all times local):

11:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is "not getting along with Russia at all" and relations between the two global powers are at an "all-time low."

Trump says in a White House news conference that he's hopeful he can improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin but "we're going to see what happens."

The president spoke alongside the secretary-general of NATO shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Putin in Moscow. Tillerson told reporters the two countries have reached a "low point" in relations in the aftermath of a chemical attack in Syria.

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10:28 p.m.

The United States is disputing that it has agreed with Russia on the need for a United Nations investigation into a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the two countries had agreed to work together on an international investigation into the attack that prompted retaliatory American missile strikes.

But Tillerson spokesman R.C. Hammond says "no agreement was reached."

Still, the U.S. isn't standing in the way of an investigation. The U.S. says the U.N. doesn't need action from the U.S. to investigate because there are already mechanisms in place to investigate chemical weapons use in Syria.

Russia maintains Syrian President Bashar Assad's opposition is responsible for the chemical weapons. But the U.S. says Tillerson believes all evidence points to Assad as the culprit.

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9:40 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is warning that Syrian President Bashar Assad's removal would profit the Islamic State group.

Lavrov criticized the Western focus on ousting Assad, saying that it would derail international efforts to combat the Islamic State group and other extremists in Syria.

He issued the warning after talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday,

Lavrov insisted that confronting the Islamic State group should take priority over removing Assad from power.

He said: "It's in our interests not to allow the Islamic State and (the al-Qaida branch in Syria) to hold court in Damascus."

Lavrov also is warning the U.S. and its allies against blaming Assad's government for a deadly chemical attack last week until the U.N. has investigated the attack.

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9:25 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the allegations of Moscow's meddling in the U.S. presidential election haven't been proven.

Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow hasn't seen "a single fact, or even a hint at facts" proving the U.S. allegations of Russian interference.

He added that Russia would consider such facts, if they are provided.

Lavrov discussed the allegations at a joint news conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said that Russia meddled in U.S. presidential campaign and election to help Donald Trump win.

The U.S. Congress has been conducting a probe into alleged links between Trump's campaign officials and Russia.

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9:20 p.m.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he did not discuss changes in sanctions against Russia during his meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

President Donald Trump's repeated campaign calls for improving relations with Russia had led to speculation that Washington might remove or dilute sanctions imposed against Russia for its interference in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.

Tillerson met with Putin and Lavrov on Wednesday.

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9:15 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is warning against an international effort to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

Lavrov cited the Western experience in Iraq and Libya to argue that the ouster of autocratic rulers by external forces leads to chaos.

He insisted that Russia wasn't holding on to Assad, but supports dialogue between various Syrian factions to determine the country's future and to preserve it as a united, secular state.

Lavrov spoke Wednesday after several hours of talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that focused on tensions in Syria following a deadly chemical attack there.

He sought to downplay the rift with the U.S. on Syria and other issues, saying that differences between Moscow and Washington aren't insurmountable. He added that Moscow and Washington understand each other better after the talks.

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9:05 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow has no intention to shield anyone responsible for the latest chemical attack in Syria.

Lavrov said Wednesday that a United Nations chemical weapons watchdog must conduct an "objective and unbiased probe" into the chemical attack that killed dozens of people.

Speaking after several hours of talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he said Russia has no intention to "shield anyone."

But Lavrov reaffirmed Russia's view that the Syrian government wasn't responsible for the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria.

Moscow has insisted that the civilians who died there were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal struck by Syrian warplanes.

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8:55 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says relations between Moscow and Washington are "at a low point" and marked by serious distrust.

Tillerson spoke at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He met with both Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin earlier Wednesday.

Tillerson says the United State is confident in its assessment that Syria used chemical weapons in a bombing last week and alleged that Syria has used such weapons more than 50 times in the past.

Last week's attack prompted Washington to launch a barrage of Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base.

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8:45 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow and Washington have agreed on the need for the United Nations to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Lavrov spoke Wednesday after several hours of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that focused on tensions over Syria sparked by a chemical attack that killed more than 80.

Lavrov says Russia thinks there is no need for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the attack until the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog has completed an objective probe.

Lavrov also says that Russian President Vladimir Putin could restore a military hotline with the U.S. if Washington focuses on fighting the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Russia has cut the hotline in response following a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base last week.

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6:30 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Kremlin in Moscow.

The meeting Wednesday, announced by Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, comes hours after Tillerson faced his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a tense encounter.

Russia's top diplomat accused the United States of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. Giving Tillerson a chilly reception, Lavrov said Russia was trying to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration.

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12:38 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated in the early months of Donald Trump's presidency.

"It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded," Putin said in an interview broadcast Wednesday by state television channel Mir.

Putin also asserted that Syria has complied with an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons "so far as we know." He reiterated previous Russian assertions that the chemical weapons attack last week that prompted a US Tomahawk missile barrage on a Syrian air base was either a rebel provocation or caused by Syrian warplanes hitting a rebel chemical weapons facility.

The interview was broadcast as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held his first meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

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12:30 p.m.

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Putin may still meet visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson, who arrived on Tuesday on his first visit to Russia since he was named to lead the U.S. State Department, is meeting for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that "if it is decided" that the Russian president needs to be briefed on the outcome of the Tillerson-Lavrov talks, he will meet them.

The Kremlin previously refused to say whether Putin would meet with Tillerson in Moscow.

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11:50 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he aims to clear up "sharp differences" with Russia as he opens a tense meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Tillerson and Lavrov are meeting in Moscow amid rising tensions over Syria.

Lavrov says Russia has lots of questions about the "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas coming from the U.S. He says through a translator that it's important for Russia to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration.

Tillerson says he wants to understand why U.S.-Russia differences exist. He says both countries have agreed that their lines of communications must stay open.

Lavrov is also subtly mocking Tillerson for the fact that top U.S. State Department positions are unfilled. He says that makes it hard to have clarity about U.S. positions.

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10:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says Russian President Vladimir Putin is backing an "evil person" in Syria.

Trump says Syrian President Bashar Assad is "an animal." He tells Fox Business Network that Putin's support for Assad is "very bad for Russia." Trump says it's also "very bad for mankind."

Trump is increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon Assad just as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Moscow. Tillerson has a meeting set later Wednesday in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It's unclear whether Putin will grant Tillerson a meeting.

The meeting comes as early expectations of an easy rapport between the Trump administration and Russia are crashing into reality. Washington and Moscow are trading sharp accusations about a chemical weapons attack last week in Syria.