Tillerson Seeks 'Open, Candid, Frank Exchange' With Lavrov In Moscow

The Putin regime has responded by doubling down on its support for Mr.al-Assad, by charging the USA with unlawful and provocative military action, and by engaging in pure KGB-style disinformation, including the suggestion by Mr. Putin, an old KGB hand, that the chemical-weapons release was really the fault of rebel groups (terrorists), who are now planning "pranks" involving further releases of chemical weapons that they will blame on the Assad regime.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Wednesday said that the president was not ruling out another attack on Syrian government installations if Assad continued to use chemical weapons against civilians.

Russian Federation - which along with Iran has deployed forces to help Assad in the six-year-old civil war - reacted with fury to the U.S. strike and continues to cast doubt on the regime's involvement in the chemical attack, to Washington's disgust.

Putin's comments came as an intense day of diplomacy began for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was visiting Moscow, CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports.

U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May had agreed to press Russian Federation to distance itself from Assad following the chemical attack by imposing targeted sanctions, but Germany and Italy, both leading G-7 nations, disagreed.

He said the United States and Russian Federation, 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".

Earlier this week, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a planned trip to Moscow, but Tillerson maintained his schedule, flying in late Tuesday after a G7 ministerial meeting in Italy. In 2013, Putin personally awarded Tillerson the Russian Order of Friendship while the two met to negotiate ExxonMobil's $50 billion deal for Russian oil and gas rights.

Russia, Assad's staunchest ally, has insisted the Syrian leader is blameless and that rebels disbursed chemical weapons. If we had armed non-jihadist elements on the ground, they could have overthrown him. He also said Putin opened the door to a restoration of a military hotline between the two countries.

Lavrov said Moscow was hoping to understand Washington's "real intentions" and warned that Moscow considered it "fundamentally important" to prevent more "unlawful" United States strikes against its ally Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that those strikes were not as effective as the USA claims.

At his first Pentagon news conference as defense chief, Mattis said the US strike was meant only to demonstrate Washington's intolerance of violations of an worldwide convention against the use of chemical weapons.

Moscow's hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from previous year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him. Russian Federation has never publicly acknowledged any such attacks by Assad's forces and has tried for the past 18 months to help him expand his authority in Syria. "An ultimatum will lead to Putin strengthening his support for Assad and this will intensify the Syrian conflict, turning it into a conflict between the West and Russian Federation".

"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person", Trump said, referring to Assad. The U.S. also accused Russian Federation of mounting a disinformation campaign aimed at exonerating Assad.

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's top diplomat accused the United States of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Putin did not say whom he thought was behind the planned attacks, but he made the comments in response to a question on the likelihood of further USA military strikes against Syria.

Adding further fuel to rising tensions: the White House's move to circulate declassified US intelligence accusing Moscow of aiding Assad's government in covering up the chemical attack.

"I immediately called General (James) Mattis and said 'what can we do?'"

This military action demonstrates that the United States will not passively stand by while President Bashar al-Assad blithely ignores worldwide law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed, he added.

They said that the Syrian military had used the weapons to prevent the loss of a key airfield that was threatened by a recent rebel advance on the strategic city of Hama.

"They said there was no consensus on whether the Russians were involved in the attack or had foreknowledge of it", he adds.