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Russia to host talks with Syria, Iran ministers


Russia’s foreign minister will host three-way talks with his counterparts from Syria and Iran this week, Moscow said on Tuesday, after the US launched strikes against Syrian forces.

“A trilateral meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Syrian minister Walid Muallem and Iranian minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is planned for the end of this week,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had information that the United States was planning to launch new missile strikes on Syria, and that there were plans to fake chemicals weapons attacks there.

Putin, standing alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella who was in Moscow for talks, said Russia would tolerate western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften.

When asked whether he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, he said:

“We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared … in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

He did not offer any proof for that assertion.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow this week will be an early test of whether the Trump administration can use any momentum generated by a missile attack on a Syrian air base to craft and execute a strategy to end the Syrian war.

Even before Trump ordered last week’s strike in retaliation for a nerve gas attack, Tillerson’s visit was certain to be dominated by thorny issues, including Russian interference in the 2016 US election, an apparent violation of an important arms control treaty, and seeing what cooperation, if any, is possible in the fight against Dais.

Now, Tillerson, a former oil executive with no diplomatic experience, is charged with avoiding a major US confrontation with Russia while exacting some concessions from Moscow. Those include getting rid of Syria’s remaining chemical weapons and pressing President Bashar Al Assad to negotiate Syria’s future.

The Kremlin said on Monday Tillerson was not scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit, a move that could point to tensions.

It may also suggest that Tillerson will instead follow strict diplomatic protocol and only meet his direct counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The State Department said last week a meeting had not been confirmed with Putin, who met with Tillerson when the Texan headed Exxon Mobil.