Wednesday April 12, 2017
Welcome to TOPLive. We'll cover the Moscow news conference of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the pair met to discuss relations between the two countries and foreign-policy issues including Syria.
Hi, I'm Jake Rudnitsky, a Moscow reporter, and I'll be leading you through tonight's briefing, which we expect to start shortly. It was only a few months ago that Russian politicians were popping champagne in parliament to celebrate President Donald Trump's victory. But after U.S. missile strikes in Syria targeted Russia's main ally in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin said today bilateral relations are even worse than under President Barack Obama.
Hi, I'm Paula Dwyer with Bloomberg View, the opinion side of Bloomberg News. I'll be highlighting the geopolitical side of tonight's briefing.
There was much speculation and even contradictory reports in the run-up to Tillerson's visit about whether Putin would see him. In the end, after a marathon three-hour session with Lavrov, the secretary of state was whisked off to the Kremlin for the meeting, which has just ended.
Judging by Lavrov's sarcastic tone at the start of the talks, the Putin meeting wouldn't have been as friendly as when the Russian president pinned a medal of friendship on Tillerson -- then the CEO of Exxon Mobil -- in 2013.
In Tillerson's words, there are "areas of sharp difference" between Russia and the U.S. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was even more blunt in a conference call today. He said it's "quite absurd" for Washington to demand Russia abandon Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin's closest ally in the Middle East.
Tillerson's meeting with Putin has ended, according to a U.S. embassy official, so the news conference with Lavrov should start soon.
For terminal users, here's a link to watch the Tillerson-Lavrov news conference in Moscow. You can also watch it live our website.
The quote that keeps popping into my mind to describe Trump's learning curve on U.S.-Russia relations is: "Who knew this could be so complicated?" Those words, of course, got Trump into a lot of trouble when he said them about repealing and replacing Obamacare. But his head-spinning changes in attitude toward Russia and Putin seem to come from the same on-the-job training experience.
Trump is now the fourth consecutive president who started off seeking a Russia reboot -- only to have a change of heart about the relationship once in office.
Tillerson has been one of the lowest-key cabinet members, especially for a position that requires him to play global diplomat and troubleshooter in many troubled regions. Because of his experience at Exxon Mobil dealing with Russia, expectations were high that he could go toe-to-toe with Putin. But Tillerson seems to be on the same steep learning curve as his boss, Trump.
Some commentators think the shift in tone by Trump's administration of late comes from a concerted attempt to show there was no collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
The news conference room is starting to buzz already, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova appearing on the scene.
Part of Tillerson's problem is that the Trump administration isn't of one voice, especially on Syria policy.
One example of the policy voices: Trump says regime change in Syria isn't his goal, yet Tillerson all but gave an ultimatum at the G-7 meeting that Assad must go.
What Trump would step into with a greater role in Syria? It’s the land where the Arab Spring collided with a dictatorship determined to stay in power. Now Syria has become the Middle East’s biggest humanitarian disaster in decades.
Here's our QuickTake for some perspective.
Last night on a Russian talk show, Zakharova said foreign policy shouldn't be based on personality but on a position. The Russian establishment, which always speaks with one voice, has been shocked to witness the bickering inside the Trump administration.
Tillerson and Lavrov have entered the room and taken their seats.
Lavrov, as the host, starts. He says, "It's been a long day" and called the talks open and substantial.
Lavrov calls for a UN investigation into the Syria chemical attack and says the U.S. is willing to support it.
Lavrov repeats the common objective of Russia and the U.S. is the defeat of Islamic State.
Lavrov says Putin willing to reinstate deconfliction memorandum between Russia and the U.S. That would keep military lines of communication open in Syria.
Lavrov also says the two countries' goal is to achieve a political solution in Syria.
Lavrov is easing off some of the harsher rhetoric that we've heard today, with his talk of a common goal with the U.S. to defeat Islamic State.
Now moving on to Ukraine, where the U.S. and Russia have agreed (again) to support the implementation of the Minsk peace accords.
Yes indeed, the talks touched on the Ukrainian crisis. But Lavrov skips quickly to other topics, like the Korean Peninsula.
Lavrov still going through his opening statement, running through all the issues.
Lavrov says arms-control talks will resume and be held in a "business-like manner."
Lavrov says "irritants" piled up between the two countries, in the Obama administration primarily.
Lavrov's calling for a pragmatic approach to the U.S.-Russia relationship. That's what the Kremlin thought it was getting when Trump won.
"The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship," says Tillerson.