Abr 13, 2017

U.S. Takes Sharper Tone on Russia's Role in Syria

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sought on Wednesday to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for backing the Syrian government in the wake of its lethal chemical weapons attack on civilians, and worked to build international pressure on Moscow to change course.

In Washington, Moscow and New York, the Trump administration publicly chastised Mr. Putin but privately worked to hash out increasingly bitter differences with him. At the same time, Mr. Trump embraced NATO — a military alliance he had previously derided as obsolete — as an effective and vital force for peace and security in a region where Russia has been an aggressive actor.

In an interview that aired on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Putin was partly to blame for the conflict in Syria and denounced him for backing President Bashar al-Assad, whom he called an "animal." Later at the White House, Mr. Trump said that Russia had likely known in advance of the Syrian government's plan to unleash a nerve agent against its own people, and asserted that the United States' relations with Moscow were at an "all-time low."

"There is a low level of trust between our countries," Mr. Tillerson told reporters at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. "The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship."

Mr. Trump on Tuesday signed the paperwork allowing Montenegro to enter NATO, two weeks after the Senate approved the move in a March 28 vote. The country's admission, White House officials said in a statement, should signal to other nations aspiring to join the alliance that "the door to membership in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations remains open and that countries in the western Balkans are free to choose their own future and select their own partners without outside interference or intimidation."

The New York Times

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and DAVID E. SANGER