Per Fox News: Tillerson originally was only slated to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The Putin-Tillerson meeting comes ahead of an expected press conference with Tillerson and Lavrov. Tillerson traveled to Moscow just days after the Trump administration launched missile strikes on an airbase in Syria, angering Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Moscow. The strike was in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier last week.
Tillerson ratcheted up his rhetoric en route to Moscow earlier this week, saying “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end” and challenging Russia to reconsider its alliance with the government in Damascus. Trump also told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that Putin is backing “an evil person” in Syria, and it’s “very bad for Russia.”
At the same time, Trump made clear he’s pushing for peace in Syria. He said, “we’re not going into Syria,” but said pressure will be on Russia to ensure peace. “If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, you wouldn’t have a problem right now,” he said. Earlier Wednesday, during a forum at The Newseum in Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about what could be on the table at a Putin-Tillerson meeting. He spoke to their common interests. “I think there is a shared interest in defeating ISIS in the region that we have a national security concern that should align with their national security concern,” he said. Spicer had tough words for Russia’s alliance with Assad, however.
“Russia right now is an island,” he said. “It’s Russia, North Korea and Iran … Russia is among that group the only non-failed state.” He said Russia is “isolating” itself by standing by Assad.