Foreign ministers of leading industrialized nations were meeting Monday amid heightened tensions between Russia and the United States over the Trump administration’s unexpected military strike on a Syrian airbase.
Leading members of the G7, meeting in Italy, will get their first chance to seek clarity from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on whether the US is now committed to deposing the regime of Syrian President President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN ambassador to the United Nations, Nikky Haley, told CNN on Sunday that regime change was “inevitable” in Syria. But Tillerson was more equivocal, telling CBS that the first priority was the defeat of ISIS.
The foreign ministers are likely to put pressure on Russia to reconsider its support for Assad in the wake of the chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in northwest Syria that killed more than 80 people. The attack was widely blamed on the Assad regime.
Tillerson, who is due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov later this week, said Russia’s support of the Syrian regime made it complicit in the outrages committed by President Assad.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday.
Haley said Tillerson would put pressure on Moscow over its support for Assad. “There’s a lot of answers that need to come from Russia. I think that’s why it’s good that Secretary Tillerson is going to Russia this next week. And I think that there will be a lot of answers that come out of that meeting,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Sunday, where both leaders agreed on the “inadmissibility” of US action against a sovereign state.
In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Russia and Iran both called for an “objective, unbiased” investigation into the chemical attack which provoked the strikes.
Warning from Iran
On Monday, Rouhani warned the US not to carry out any more strikes against Syria. “Repeating this action can be very dangerous for the region,” he said.
The US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Airfield in Syria Friday, which housed the warplanes used in last week’s chemical weapons attack on civilians, according to US officials.
Tillerson and Lavrov discussed the missile strike in a phone call Saturday. According to a statement issued by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Lavrov said US statements that the Syrian government used chemical weapons “do not correspond with reality.”
“Lavrov stressed that an attack on a country whose government is fighting terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists creates additional threats to regional and global security,” the statement said.
Tillerson said that Russia should do more to meet commitments it made in 2013 to guarantee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. “That will part of the discussions when I visit Moscow next week is to call upon Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian government to fulfill the obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons,” he told ABC.
“And why Russia has not been able to achieve that is unclear to me. I don’t draw conclusions of complicity at all, but clearly they’ve been incompetent and perhaps they’ve just simply been out-maneuvered by the Syrians.”
Regime change in Syria inevitable: US
The Trump administration has hardened its position on Assad’s future n the past few days,.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CNN a change of government in the war-ravaged nation was “inevitable.”
“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.
“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.”
Haley’s comments were a significant departure from President Donald Trump’s previous stance on Assad’s future — before to his election victory in November, he said fighting Assad and ISIS simultaneously was “idiocy.”