Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson meets Putin over Syria crisis

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has been having talks with Vladimir Putin amid tensions after an American airstrike against the Syrian regime.

The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm the Russian President would meet Mr Tillerson, reflecting strained relations between the two powers.

The talks came hours after Donald Trump's top diplomat faced his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as the countries try to find common ground over the future of the war-ravaged nation.

Mr Lavrov said Moscow, which backs Syrian President Bashar al Assad, was trying to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration.

He said Russia has lots of questions about the "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas coming from Washington.

Russia has accused the US of "primitive and loutish" rhetoric over Syria.

The Russian foreign minister said last Friday's cruise missile strike which targeted a Syrian government airbase was an unlawful attack against President Assad's forces.

Mr Lavrov said: "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future."

The US claimed the strike was in retaliation for the deadly chemical attack on civilians allegedly carried out by the Assad regime and launched from the targeted airfield.

Russia has supported Mr Assad militarily in his fight against rebels, including Islamic extremists, during the country's six-year-old civil war.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated in the early months of the Trump presidency, according to Mr Putin.

Before the Tillerson meeting, he said: "It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded."

Mr Tillerson has admitted the two countries had "sharp differences" which have got in the way of cooperation but he expressed optimism their talks could narrow those differences.

"We both have agreed our lines of communication shall always remain open," Mr Tillerson said prior to meeting Mr Putin.

UK analysis of samples from the chemical attack has detected sarin or a sarin-like substance , said Britain's UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft.

The Putin-Tillerson meeting was believed to be the first between the Russian President and a top member of Mr Trump's administration since the US businessman took office in January.

It is not the first time Mr Putin and Mr Tillerson have had talks.

The Russian leader has previously met the American when he was head of US oil giant ExxonMobil.

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