U.S.-Russia differences will take time to resolve, says foreign policy expert

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned from his two-day trip to Moscow on April 13.

The day before, he met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Tillerson is the first official in the Trump administration to visit Moscow.

Relations between U.S. and Russia are tense over the conflict in Syria. Moscow had previously said that Putin would not meet with Tillerson.

The main objective of the meeting for Tillerson was to persuade Russia to cease support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is an objective agreed upon by G7 foreign ministers at their most recent meeting.

“It was a very strong statement by the G7 that the world’s major economies do not agree that Syria can be successfully governed by Bashar al-Assad. To me that was the single strongest statement and it was very important for its timing–just before Tillerson went to Moscow,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, Director of Research for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute.

Russia has refused to accept reports of Assad using chemical weapons.

Before meeting with Putin, Tillerson sat down with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. He hoped to use the meeting to clear up differences and establish common ground.

“Our meetings today come at an important moment in the relationship so that we can further clarify areas of common objectives, areas of common interest even when our tactical approach is maybe different,” said Tillerson.

Tillerson had hoped for candid discussions and a stabilization of U.S.-Russia relations. But O’Hanlon said there won’t be major progress on those fronts right away.

“There’s no point in Lavrov telling the United States to avoid further strikes and there’s no point in Tillerson telling Russia to break its alliances with Iran and Assad. Because these things are not going to change quickly,” said O’Hanlon.

The Syrian conflict is complicated. Experts believe that the Trump administration needs a comprehensive strategy to tackle the issue.