- Trump says US-Russia relations at 'all-time low'
- US president says Nato is no longer 'obsolete'
- Putin say US-Russia relations 'degraded' under Trump
- Moscow vetoes UN Security Council resolution
- Boris Johnson refuses to give up on political solution
Donald Trump has described US relations with Russia as at "an all-time low" over the Syria crisis but reversed his position on Nato, saying the alliance was "no longer obsolete".
The US president said that "right now we're not getting along with Russia at all" after Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, had attempted to persuade Vladimir Putin to distance himself from Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned the purpose of Nato, but, amid rising tensions with Russia, he called it a "bulwark of international peace and security" yesterday and hailed its role in the fight against terrorism.
He said "it would be a fantastic thing" if the US, Nato and Russia got along better but warned that "it may be just the opposite".
Mr Tillerson held a two-hour meeting with Mr Putin earlier yesterday in an attempt to to persuade the Russian president to abandon his unwavering support for Mr Assad following last week's chemical weapons attack.
However, on Wednesday night Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the sarin gas attack in Idlib province. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said he was "dismayed" by the decision and that it put Russia "on the wrong side of the argument".
"The international community sought to make clear that any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere is unacceptable and that those responsible will face consequences," Mr Johnson said.
"So I am dismayed that Russia has once again blocked the UN Security Council and in so doing refused to condemn the use of chemical weapons or support a full UN investigation into the attack."
Mr Tillerson, who is the first Trump administration official to meet Mr Putin, said: "The world’s foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship."
Moscow and Washington were plunged into the latest of a series of crises when Mr Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after a poison gas attack in rebel-held Idlib province killed at least 86 people, including more than 30 children, last Tuesday.
Russia condemned the US strike as a violation of international law and suspended a hotline between the two country’s militaries in Syria in protest at the strike.
Earlier on Wednesday Mr Putin expressed barely disguised frustration with Mr Trump, saying relations between Russia and the US had actually deteriorated since the new president was sworn in.
"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 Putin said in an interview broadcast yesterday by state television channel Mir.
Mr Putin’s comments came after the White House accused the Kremlin of attempting to cover up the gas attack and Mr Trump said Russia’s relationship with Assad was "bad for mankind".
"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person," Mr Trump told the Fox Business Network, referring to Mr Assad. "I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind."
Of Mr Assad, Mr Trump added: "This is an animal."
Mr Tillerson and Mr Lavrov announced a number of measures to cool the confrontation, including by reinstating the de-confliction hotline. The two agreed on the need to restore dialogue over the crisis in Syria.
However, they were clear that fundamental differences remained about Mr Assad’s future and guilt for the gas attack.
“We discussed at length the future role for Assad, whether it is in a future political process or not," Mr Tillerson said about his meeting with Mr Putin.
"The US view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end they have brought that upon them selves. We put forward the view that Russia is perhaps in a position to help Mr Assad recognise that,” he added.
Mr Tillerson said evidence that Mr Assad’s regime planned and carried out the attack was “conclusive.”
Mr Lavrov said there was no evidence of regime guilt for the attack and flatly rejected calls for Russia to collaborate in regime change, saying “we already knew all too well how this ends.”
Trump says will take on North Korea without China's backing if necessary
Speaking at the joint news conference with visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr Trump addressed his recent meeting and phone conversation with Xi Jinping, China's president.
"President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding, I think we had a very good chemistry together, I think he wants to help us with North Korea," Trump said
"We talked trade, we talked a lot of things, and I said the way you're going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we're just going to go it alone, that'll be all right too, but going it alone means going with lots of other nations."
"We don't want a new Cold War"
Mr Stoltenberg said Nato is implementing the biggest reinforcements in collective defence since the Cold War. He said the world "must avoid a new cold war or arms race".
As well as building a strong alliance and deploying more troops, he said it was important to establish better diplomatic relations with Russia.
"Getting along" with Vladimir Putin "may not happen"
Donald Trump said he would soon speak with Mr Tillerson to hear more about his visit to Russia. He said that the "end result is what's important; not just talk".
He said it would be "wonderful" if NATO and our country "could get along with Russia".
"We are not getting along with Russia at all," Mr Trump said. "It's at an all time low."
"Russia is a strong country. We are a very very strong country. We'll see how that works out. It would be a fantastic thing if we could get along with Putin. It may not happen; it may be just the opposite."
Nato is "no longer obsolete"
Donald Trump has said Nato is no longer "obsolete" as he once claimed, announcing that the alliance is expected to play a greater role in "fighting terrorism".
Mr Trump said he spoke with Mr Stoltenberg about the alliance playing a greater role in fighting Isil in Iraq, and also becoming more involved in Afghanistan.
He repeated his belief that "we must also ensure that NATO members meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe". He said he and Mr Stoltenberg agreed that more must be done to ensure that member countries pay the two per cent of GDP commitment to defence.
Mr Stoltenberg confirmed that Nato "can and must do more" to fight "international terrorism".
He thanked Mr Trump for "drawing attention" to the issue of burden sharing and said he had "seen the effects" of this focus already, in terms of member states' commitment.
Donald Trump meets with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general
Donald Trump and Jens Stoltenberg are holding a joint press conference, following their first meeting in the White House.
Mr Trump has accused NATO allies of not paying their fair share for defence, and even said he believes the alliance is "obsolete".
But he has significantly toned down his comments since taking office and the US has affirmed its commitement to NATO.
Why Russia vetoed the resolution
The resolution called for an investigation into the chemical weapons strike that focused on the Syrian regime.
It called on Assad's government to provide flight plans and logs for the day of the attack and the names of all helicopter squadron commanders, and provide access to air bases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.
It asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian government is cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.
The draft resolution "expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable."
Russia has said it wants an investigation into the chemical strike but does not want it to centre on the Assad regime.
Whilst the US has said it has proof the attack was perpetrated by Damascus, Mr Lavrov said Russia is still far off from identifying who it believes to be the "culprit".
Russia vetoes United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria
Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council vote on draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week in Idlib province.
It marks the eighth time that Russia has intervened to block a motion on Syria by the Security Council.
Allegations that Russia interfered in US election are "not proven"
Mr Lavrov says the allegations of Moscow's meddling in the US presidential election haven't been proven. He said Moscow hasn't seen "a single fact, or even a hint at facts" proving the U.S. allegations of Russian interference. He added that Russia would consider such facts, if they are provided. Russia has called the allegations "slanderous".
Russia says it has not been shown evidence that Assad regime perpetrated chemical attacks
The White House has said that it has collected videos, survivor testimony, physiological samples from he victims of the attack, which it says clearly shows the attack was sarin and that it was perpetrated by the Assad regime.
Mr Lavrov though said Russia has not been presented with compelling evidence to show that the attack was perpetrated by Damascus. "I want to deal with facts," he said.
Vladimir Putin did not raise the question of dropping US sanctions
"We discussed no change in the status of sanctions," said Mr Tillerson. "The issue of the election interference is a serious issue, one that could attract additional sanctions. Mindful of that interference, sure Russia is as well."
Is there anything uglier than the American pronunciation of the surname “Lavrov”?— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) April 12, 2017
Our US Editor Ruth Sherlock has this analysis:
Mr Tillerson said there may come a time when enough evidence of war crimes and other human rights violations has been collected to prosecute Bashar al-Assad. But top prosecutors who have sent past dictators to jail have long said they believe enough such proof has already been gathered.
The Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012 has received more than six hundred thousand government documents, that were smuggled out of Syria in recent years. A study of these culminated in a 400 page legal brief that connected the murder and torture of tens of thousands of Syrians at the hands of the country's security forces to a written policy approved by Assad himself. Stephen Rapp, who led prosecution teams at the international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone before serving for six years as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, told the New Yorker last year that this documentation “is much richer than anything I’ve seen, and anything I’ve prosecuted in this area".
"We touched only briefly on the topic of cyber security..." said Mr Tillerson, asked about the hacking scandal by Russia's Kommersant newspaper.
Challenged about the US use of cyber warfare (American programmers are believed to have launched a massive cyber attack against the Iranian nuclear program), he said:
"I do make the distinction between the use of cyber tools to influence the internal decisions of countries and cyber tools against weapons programs. It is on the agenda to have further discussions in the future."
Russia will not back regime change in Syria
"This fixation on trying to oust this or that leader, an authoritarian leader or a dictator, is familiar to us and we know how it ends," says Mr Lavrov, as he reiterates Moscow's longstanding opposition to regime change.
"Are you aware how the country must be built? It must be secular and it democratic. All ethnic groups must be represented," Mr Lavrov says, counting off the challenges that will be faced by negotiators in Geneva trying to find a transition in Syria.
It is a firm rejection of Mr Tillerson's suggestion that Moscow explain to Mr Assad that it is time to go.
Scrupulously polite, but no real agreement
Doesn't seem any great bridges gapped on Syria (surprise). Tillerson insists sarin was Assad, Lavrov repeating over & over need for invest. pic.twitter.com/qWF4w2tyGF— Matthew Bodner (@mattb0401) April 12, 2017
Tillerson: Bashar al-Assad 'could face war crimes charges'
"It is possible that the threshold necessary to charge Assad will be achieved. I will not suggest all of that evidence is in place, but it is possible that as time goes by we can make that case, and there are individuals working on that case," Mr Tillerson said.
Tillerson and Putin 'discussed Assad's future'
"We discussed at length the future role for Assad, whether it is in a future political process or not," Mr Tillerson says about his meeting with Mr Putin.
The US view, he adds is "that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end they have brought that upon them selves."
"We put forward the view that Russia is perhaps in a position to help Mr Assad recognize that. We believe Mr Assad should leave in an orderly way," he added.
Mr Tillerson said the US is open minded about how the transition comes about, but that "the final outcome in our view does not provide for a role of Mr Assad or his family in Syria."
Russia repeats US strike was unjustified
Lavrov: "There are no signs to support the allegation that chemical agents were stored at the Shayrat airbase [which was struck by US missiles on April 7]. "
Disagreement remains on the April 4 gas massacre
Rex Tillerson reiterates the US view that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the April 4 gas attack.
"I think the perspective from the US is supported by the facts we have, which are conclusive: the recent attack was executed and planned by Syrian regime forces. I think the characterization is one that Assad has brought upon himself [the US strikes]" he says. He also said the US believed the Assad regime had used chlorine gas on civilian populations on "more than 50 occasions".
Mr Lavrov follows up "with a couple of comments of my own" - those comments are to the effect that the rebels are responsible for the gas attack, and that Russia requires a proper UN investigation to establish the truth of the attack.
"I am not trying to level accusations at anyone or exonerate anyone. I am just saying that we should have an investigation to establish what happened on April 4," he said.
Rex Tillerson: "The world's foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship."
"We agreed to establish a working group to address small issues to stabilize the relationship and work on long term issues," Mr Tillerson added.
He adds that the situation in Ukraine will remain a serious problem for relations between the US and Russia until the war there is ended.
"Russia can de-escalate violence and take measures to withdraw separatist armed forces so OSCE monitors can do their jobs," says Mr Tillerson. Interestingly he does not mention Russian armed forces explicitly - a softening of language from the Obama administration.
Russia's position in stark divergence with the US
Ruth Sherlock in Washington writes: Mr Lavrov has said Russia has agreed there should be an investigation into the chemical weapons strike in Idlib last week, but has not accepted, at this stage, that it was perpetrated by the regime.
He said Russian wanted the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to travel to Syria and investigate the strike. He agreed the UN should enforce a ban on chemical weapons.
But he said they wanted an "honest" investigation to "identify the culprits". This is in stark divergence with the US position, which has already laid the blame at the door of the Assad regime.
Tillerson: "productive meeting" with Mr Putin
"I expressed the view our relations are at a low point," he begins with understatement. "There is a low level of trust between our countries."
Three main Syria demands
A quick summary so far from Matthew Bodner in Moscow:
Mr Lavrov said: "We in the context of fighting terrorism we discussed the situation in Syria, and discussed what happened on April 4th...as we have said before we think this was illegal."
Mr Lavrov also said Russia also said it wants a full investigation into the CW attack, and added:
"We also discussed the airspace safety memorandum, today our president confirmed his willingness to restore it"
Russia calls for calm in North Korea
"We must find a way out of the confrontation spiral" Mr Lavrov says of a brewing crisis over North Korea's nuclear program.
Vladmir Putin 'reinstates deconfliction referendum in Syria'
Sergey Lavrov says Vladimir Putin said he was ready to reinstate a memorandum with the US designed to prevent accidents in the skies over Syria. The Russian defence ministry suspended the agreement in protest at last week's US missile strike.
Russia "sees readiness of US to support investigation into gas attack."
Mr Lavrov says the US has backed Russia demands for a comprehensive UN investigation into the April 4 attack, but defends Russian decision to veto any resolution at the UN Security Council that it considers "counter productive."
Lavrov: "no compromise with terrorism"
First the agreements: We understand that if Moscow and Washington cooperate it is to the benefit of the whole world, not just our countries. We have reaffirmed that there will be no compromise with terrorism.
The Russian foreign minister adds that both sides have "stated their positions" regarding the chemical weapons attack near Idlib on April 4 and the subsequent US missile strike on a Syrian airbase on April 7.
Lavrov and Tillerson arrive for press conference
Mr Lavrov says in opening comments that the meeting with Vladimir Putin for more than two hours. The negotiations were "substantial and very frank."
US to Russia: choose between Assad or civilization
Earlier Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told Russia to side with Assad or the civilized world, Ruth Sherlock reports:
"To my colleagues from Russia," Mrs Haley said. "You are isolating yourself from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drops barrel bombs on civilians."
She said that it has "long passed time for Russia to stop covering for Assad and for Russia to push for peace and not be part of the problem".
Russia is expected to veto a resolution this afternoon demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week.
Mrs Haley said that for Russia "getting serious about peace" starts by with commitment to push Assad to get chemical weapons out of Syria.
She also said Moscow should commit to the Geneva peace talks.
Mrs Haley also had a tough message for the UN security council, warning that it's relevance is measured by action.
Russia attacks the UK at the United Nations
Russian representative in UN saying to UK ambassador: "Look at me, don't look away!" pic.twitter.com/M4XANCnqKt— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) April 12, 2017
Heated exchanges at the United Nations
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador says the U.S. "provocation" by attacking a Syrian air base will only encourage those who want a military solution to the six-year Syrian conflict.
Vladimir Safronkov told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun needs to be investigated and he asked how French experts determined who was responsible when nobody has visited the area.
He also accused Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of being far more interested in regime change in Syria than in seeking to bring peace to the country.
Safronkov gave strong backing to efforts by U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura to get the Syrian government and opposition to discuss key political issues in Geneva.
He stressed that a political settlement "is the only way to return Syria to peace and reduce tensions in the Middle East."
The Russian foreign ministry's official spokeswoman has arrived in the press conference hall in Moscow. This may be a sign the much-delayed presser will start shortly.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has arrived. pic.twitter.com/ZR1GwjbkrZ— Matthew Bodner (@mattb0401) April 12, 2017
Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson meeting over
We're getting word the closed door meeting in the Kremlin is over. A joint press conference with Rex Tillerson and Sergei Lavrov is expected to start in about 30 minutes.
Apparently the lucky ones are AP and Fox
Waiting 1.5 hours+ for Moscow press conference in which Tillerson has already decided which two outlets he'll take questions from. pic.twitter.com/cCiW940Hbl— Joshua Yaffa (@yaffaesque) April 12, 2017
Who is Rex Tillerson?
Here's our look at Donald Trump's secretary of state.
Gas used in April 4 attack "Sarin or similar"
UK ambo to UN says Porton Down (where UK used to develop its own chem weapons) scientists analysed #KhanSheikhoun samples. Sarin or similar.— Rory Challands (@rorychallandsAJ) April 12, 2017
Bashar Assad promised to give up his stocks of Sarin - a deadly nerve agent - after a similar attack near Damascus in 2013.
The United States and other Western countries say he lied about giving up gas, despite promising both Washington and Moscow he would do so.
Russia claims Mr Assad did indeed surrender his nerve gas stocks - meaning that it was the rebels, not the government who owned the gas used in the attack.
Syrian process is in "grave danger"
While closed-door talks continue in the Kremlin, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, has called on the US and Russia to work for a real ceasefire and help end the six year conflict in the country.
Speaking to the UN Security council, he said the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group comprising about 20 countries with interests on both sides of the conflict, "must find a way to work together, to stabilize the situation ... in support of the political process."
De Mistura said Russia, Iran and Turkey must also "step up and deliver now."
"Let us use this moment of crisis - and it is a moment of crisis - as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution," he said.
'No statement after Kremlin meeting'
Встреча Путина, Лаврова и Тиллерсона в Кремле проходит без участия журналистов: никаких заявлений для прессы по ее итогам не планируется pic.twitter.com/WpQWIQCVWi— Дмитрий Смирнов (@dimsmirnov175) April 12, 2017
Komsomolskaya Pravda's Kremlin correspondent Dmitry Smirnov, always where Putin is, says: "Putin, Lavrov's and Tillerson's meeting in the Kremlin is closed to journalists: no statement for the press about its results is planned."
Vladimir Putin hosts US Secretary of State in the Kremlin
Rex Tillerson's motorcade arrived at the Kremlin around 4 PM London time, and he has been speaking to Mr Putin for nearly an hour.
The meeting follows a day of talks between Mr Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, as Washington and Moscow seek to defuse a simmering confrontation over the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons.
Top of the agenda will be US demands that Mr Putin ditch his ally Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president who the US have accused of using chemical weapons on civilians in a horrific attack last week.
Mr Putin is unlikely to bow to those demands - and will likely demand assurances that there will be no repeat of the US missile strikes on a Syrian airbase on April 7.
Mr Tillerson is the first official from Donald Trump's administration to meet Mr Putin face to face. So no pressure.