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Security Council Veto Marks Frosty Day in U.S.-Russia Relations

by Countable | 4.12.17

The rift between the American and Russian governments was on full display Wednesday, as the latter blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited his counterpart and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss their differences, and President Donald Trump hosted the Secretary General of NATO — a key counterweight to Russia — at the White House. We’ve recapped the day’s diplomatic events for you below.

Security Council showdown

Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has been vocal in condemning Russia for its support of the Assad regime, saying the day after sarin gas was used to kill more than 80 civilians that it "cannot escape responsibility" for the attack because it had failed to remove the chemical weapons as promised. Eight days after the attack, the Security Council had its opportunity to take action.

The U.S. delegation, along with the British and French, drafted a resolution that strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons and directed the Syrian government to allow an investigation to proceed. The trio of permanent Security Council members gained the support of seven non-permanent members that don’t hold vetoes, but Russia chose to use its veto power as the council’s fourth permanent member to defeat the resolution. Three countries abstained from voting — Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, and China — the latter being the fifth permanent member of the Security Council.

Wednesday marked the eighth time since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011 that Russia used its veto to stop a UN resolution condemning the Assad regime. (China joined Russia in vetoing six of those eight resolutions).

Tillerson’s trip to Moscow

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the Kremlin for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and spent two hours with Putin on Wednesday. No agreement was reached on assigning responsibility for last week’s chemical attack in Syria, as the U.S. still maintains that the Assad regime used sarin gas, while Russia insists the facts are unknown and that an investigation should occur. Other issues discussed included North Korea’s recent tests of its nuclear capabilities, the situation in Ukraine, and Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

At a joint press conference following the meeting, Tillerson said "there is a low level of trust between our countries" and “the world’s foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” a sentiment that Lavrov echoed. The pair did agree to form a working group that examines “the irritants” in U.S.-Russia relations.

Trump weighs in

President Trump weighed in on the tension with Russia while hosting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House. He said that ties with Russia "may be at an all-time low" but praised the “great alliance” between the U.S. and its NATO partners. Referring to his statement about the alliance’s vitality during the presidential campaign, Trump told the press conference “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

For his part, Stoltenberg expressed gratitude for the U.S. commitment to NATO and its contributions to NATO’s fight against terrorism. He also praised Trump’s calls for "fairer burden sharing" in the alliance as encouraging more NATO members to meet their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Given that NATO was formed to provide for the collective defense of the U.S. and much of Europe against the Soviet Union, it was inevitable that Stoltenberg would be asked about the status of U.S.-Russia relations. Stoltenberg, who served in the Norwegian military before becoming his country’s prime minister said that "we don’t want a new Cold War, we don’t want a new arms race" but that a strong, united NATO is a “precondition for political dialog with Russia.”

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— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson via Wikimedia / Public Domain)

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