Russia and the United States have a shared understanding that US air strikes on Syria should not be repeated, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem in Moscow on Thursday, Interfax news agency reported. He said this was “concluded” during Wednesday’s visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow.
But in Washington, the US State Department said Tillerson did not eliminate the possibility the United States may undertake future strikes. “The secretary explained there were no subsequent targets after the missile strike, but he did not rule out any future action,” State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
“He stressed that Russia is in a position to use its influence over the Assad regime to ensure it is never again necessary for the US to act,” Toner said.
Chemical attack was ‘war crime’
The Syrian government’s suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians last week amounts to a “war crime,” the US State Department said Thursday. It also ridiculed comments by President Bashar al-Assad in an interview with AFP to the effect that the alleged attack was fabricated by the United States to justify an American military strike.
“Sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion,” said department spokesman Mark Toner, alluding to what Assad said in the interview Wednesday. It was Assad’s first since the alleged April 4 chemical weapons attack prompted a US cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.
“Frankly, it’s a tactic we’ve seen on Russia’s part as well in the past,” Toner told a daily press briefing.
Echoing charges by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Toner said there can be little doubt that the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province was carried out by Syrian government forces.
“It wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war but it was a – we believe, a war crime,” Toner said. Tillerson, visiting Moscow on Wednesday, addressed the issue of the chemical weapons attack but he stopped short of calling it a war crime.