WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet this week with Russia’s top diplomat as the two countries try to salvage a relationship that Tillerson says is worse than at any time since the Cold War.
The crisis in Syria is the most urgent topic on the agenda when Tillerson sits down Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Washington. The U.S. is dubious about a new Russian-led plan for safe zones in Syria, but Moscow’s incontrovertible clout in Syria’s civil war has made it impossible for Washington to ignore.
The talks come as the Trump administration works to open lines of communication with Moscow in hopes that that trust can be rebuilt over time. Tillerson, speaking to U.S. diplomats last week, said the approach was to “work on some small things” with Russia and to test “can we work one big thing together” — namely, Syria.
“If we can find space for something we feel we can begin to rebuild some level of trust, because today there is almost no trust between us,” Tillerson said. Last month, he and Lavrov held tense talks in Moscow in which both publicly acknowledged the sour state of relations.
Lavrov, who rarely visits Washington, had been scheduled to meet Tillerson later in the week in Alaska on the sidelines of an Arctic Council summit. Asked whether Lavrov’s visit boded well for improving ties, Tillerson said Monday: “We shall see.”
Both diplomats will still travel to Fairbanks for that summit, where Tillerson will also meet individually with other foreign ministers. Arctic countries have expressed concern that the Trump administration’s environmental positions will undermine efforts to address climate change, especially as President Donald Trump considers withdrawing from the global climate pact reached in Paris.
But David Balton, a top U.S. diplomat who works on ocean and environmental issues, said there would be “no change” to U.S. participation in the council’s climate change work.
“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work…