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Russia must choose between Assad and the US, says Tillerson

Russia must choose between Assad and the US, says Tillerson
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued an ultimatum to Russia on Wednesday: Side with the US and like-minded countries on Syria, or embrace Iran, militant group Hezbollah and embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad. As he embarked on a trip to Moscow following urgent meetings in Italy with top diplomats, Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction "doesn't much matter to the dead".

"We cannot let this happen again," the secretary of state said. "We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.

Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role," Tillerson added in remarks to reporters. "Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia's interests longer term." Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that it hoped for "productive talks". It said the outcome of the discussions is important not only for the Russia-US relationship, but "for the overall atmosphere on the world stage".

Tillerson is travelling to Russia several days after a chemical attack in Syria and a US airstrike on a Syrian government base that Moscow today (Wednesday) dismissed as "an act of aggression". Moscow is a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad whom the United States blamed for the chemical attack. Since the US launched airstrikes against Assad's forces in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians last week, Trump administration officials have offered mixed messages about whether Washington believes Assad definitely must surrender power, and when. Tillerson said it was clear the US saw no role for Assad in Syria's future, given that he had lost legitimacy.

"It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," he said. "But the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside a unified Syria," he added.


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