The Latest: US, Russia agree to push chemical weapons probe

The Latest: US, Russia agree to push chemical weapons probe

MOSCOW — The Latest on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow and Washington have agreed on the need for the United Nations to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Lavrov spoke Wednesday after several hours of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that focused on tensions over Syria sparked by a chemical attack that killed more than 80.

Lavrov says Russia thinks there is no need for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the attack until the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog has completed an objective probe.

Lavrov also says that Russian President Vladimir Putin could restore a military hotline with the U.S. if Washington focuses on fighting the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Russia has cut the hotline in response following a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base last week.

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6:30 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Kremlin in Moscow.

The meeting Wednesday, announced by Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, comes hours after Tillerson faced his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a tense encounter.

Russia’s top diplomat accused the United States of carrying out an unlawful attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Giving Tillerson a chilly reception, Lavrov said Russia was trying to understand the “real intentions” of the Trump administration.

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12:38 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated in the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better but most likely has degraded,” Putin said in an interview broadcast Wednesday by state television channel Mir.

Putin also asserted that Syria has complied with an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons “so far as we know.” He reiterated previous Russian assertions that the chemical weapons attack last week that prompted a US Tomahawk missile barrage on a Syrian air base was either a rebel provocation or caused by Syrian warplanes hitting a rebel chemical weapons facility.

The interview was broadcast as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held his first meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

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12:30 p.m.

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Putin may still meet visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson, who arrived on Tuesday on his first visit to Russia since he was named to lead the U.S. State Department, is meeting for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that “if it is decided” that the Russian president needs to be briefed on the outcome of the Tillerson-Lavrov talks, he will meet them.

The Kremlin previously refused to say whether Putin would meet with Tillerson in Moscow.

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11:50 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he aims to clear up “sharp differences” with Russia as he opens a tense meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Tillerson and Lavrov are meeting in Moscow amid rising tensions over Syria.

Lavrov says Russia has lots of questions about the “very ambiguous” and “contradictory” ideas coming from the U.S. He says through a translator that it’s important for Russia to understand the “real intentions” of the Trump administration.

Tillerson says he wants to understand why U.S.-Russia differences exist. He says both countries have agreed that their lines of communications must stay open.

Lavrov is also subtly mocking Tillerson for the fact that top U.S. State Department positions are unfilled. He says that makes it hard to have clarity about U.S. positions.

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10:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump says Russian President Vladimir Putin is backing an “evil person” in Syria.

Trump says Syrian President Bashar Assad is “an animal.” He tells Fox Business Network that Putin’s support for Assad is “very bad for Russia.” Trump says it’s also “very bad for mankind.”

Trump is increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon Assad just as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Moscow. Tillerson has a meeting set later Wednesday in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It’s unclear whether Putin will grant Tillerson a meeting.

The meeting comes as early expectations of an easy rapport between the Trump administration and Russia are crashing into reality. Washington and Moscow are trading sharp accusations about a chemical weapons attack last week in Syria.

The Associated Press