by Itunuoluwa Adebo
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State a one-time recipient of the Russian Order of Friendship from President Vladimir Putin arrives Tuesday in Moscow amid brewing tensions over the ongoing conflict in Syria.
This trip is the most sensitive to date for Tillerson. The secretary of state is seeking to leverage both international condemnations over the Syrian regime’s alleged use chemical gas against civilians and President Trump’s recent display of American military of might to weaken Russia’s support for President Bashar al-Assad.
According to CNN, Tillerson’s strategy for the trip is to highlight Russia’s responsibility for Assad’s actions in an effort to shame Putin into doing more to end the conflict and drive a wedge between Moscow and Damascus.
Tillerson said on ABC, “I’m hopeful we can have constructive talks with the Russia government, with Foreign Minister (Sergey) Lavrov, and have Russia be supportive of a process that will lead to a stable Syria,”He added that “Clearly, they are Bashar al-Assad’s current ally, “They should have the greatest influence on Bashar al-Assad, and certainly his decisions to use chemical weapons. They should have the greatest influence on him to cause him to no longer use those.”
Tillerson’s predecessor, John Kerry held months of talks with Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in an fruitless effort to find agreement on a ceasefire between the regime and the Syrian opposition, which could lead to a political process.
“Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow before our military action in Syria was already heavy-laden with issues, including Crimea, Ukraine, all different types of issues on the agenda,” former US ambassador to Syria Edward Djerejian told CNN. Tillerson, who has shied away from the limelight since taking office, has been front and center this week defending the strikes.