11 April, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has traveled to Moscow in an effort to persuade Russia to end support for Syrian leader Bashar al Assad.
Tillerson's trip follows the deadly chemical attack on civilians in Syria last week. Dozens of people were killed - including many women and children – and hundreds more were sickened. U.S. officials have blamed forces loyal to Assad for the attack.
In response, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes on the Syrian airfield suspected of launching the attack. A total of 59 missiles were fired. U.S. officials said the missile strikes had damaged about 20 percent of Syria's air force capabilities.
"We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people," Tillerson said before leaving for Moscow. "Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role. Or Russia can maintain its alliance" with Syria and Iran.
Tillerson left for Russia after meeting with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations in Italy. Speaking to reporters there, he said "it is clear" that Assad's leadership "is coming to an end."
He added that Moscow had failed in its role as sponsor of a 2013 deal under which Assad had promised to give up his chemical weapons.
"These agreements stipulated Russia as the guarantor of a Syria free of chemical weapons. It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously, or Russia has been incompetent. But this distinction doesn't much matter to the dead. We can't let this happen again."
There were no scheduled plans for Tillerson to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, Russian media outlets cited unnamed sources as saying the two might meet.
Tillerson previously met with Putin while presiding over the Exxon Mobil oil company. He was awarded Russia's "Order of Friendship" by Putin in 2013.
The Syrian government has denied its forces carried out the chemical attack. It instead blamed rebel forces. Russia and Iran have been strong supporters of Assad's government. Both have aided his forces in the conflict against rebel fighters.
Russia condemned the U.S. missile strikes in Syria. Before Tillerson's arrival in Moscow, Putin said Russia had information about new "provocations" being planned. He suggested that opposition rebels could carry out chemical weapons attacks and attempt to blame Syria and Russia.
Putin did not provide further details. But he added, "It reminds me of the events in 2003 when U.S. envoys to the [U.N.] Security Council were demonstrating what they said were chemical weapons found in Iraq. We have seen it already."
Russia has called for a United Nations investigation into the chemical attack in Syria.
Meanwhile, Turkey says tests have confirmed that the chemical used in the Syrian attack was the deadly nerve gas sarin.
Turkey's health minister said the conclusion was reached after blood and urine samples were examined. The samples were used in autopsies on three victims of the gas attacks that were brought from Syria.
Officials said the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons participated in the tests.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
sponsor – n. organization that supports and/or gives money to a person or another group
obligation – n. something a person does as a duty or because they think they have to do it
incompetent – adj. lacking in ability or skills
distinction – adj. quality or fact that makes something special or different
provocation – n. action or occurrence that causes someone to become angry or start doing something
autopsy - n. medical examination of a dead body to determine cause of death