U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued an ultimatum to Russia on Tuesday: Side with the U.S. and likeminded countries on Syria, or embrace Iran, militant group Hezbollah and embattled Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
As he embarked on a trip to Moscow following urgent meetings in Italy with top diplomats, Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.”
“We cannot let this happen again,” the secretary of state said.
“We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role,” Tillerson added in remarks to reporters. “Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interests longer term.”
Since the U.S. launched airstrikes against Assad’s forces in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians last week, Trump administration officials have offered mixed messages about whether Washington believes Assad definitely must surrender power — and when. Tillerson said it was clear the U.S. saw no role for Assad in Syria’s future, given that he had lost legitimacy.