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Tillerson: Russia Chemical Weapons Involvement Would Be “Very Damaging”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that it would be very damaging for U.S.-Russia relations if it turns out they were complicit in the most recent Syrian chemical weapons attack during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that there were anywhere between 12 to 100 Russians on the Syrian airbase that the U.S. targeted with a missile strike on Thursday. Stephanopoulos asked Tillerson if this information means the Russians were complicit in the attack.

“I’m not seeing hard evidence that connects the Russians to the planning or execution of this particular chemical weapons attack,” Tillerson told Stephanopoulos.

Tillerson then said “I think the strike was well-planned, proportional, directly related to the chemical weapons attack. And no other parties were targeted.”

Stephanopoulos asked Tillerson if he will deliver Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov an ultimatum on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria when he meets with him next week.

“We have already issued some very strong statements. And yes, that will be part of the discussions when I visit Moscow next week, is to call upon Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian government to fulfill the obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons,” Tillerson told Stephanopoulos.

Tillerson then questioned why the Russians have not been able to accomplish the removal of chemical weapons as they promised. Tillerson told Stephanopoulos he doesn’t think the Russians are complicit, but does suggest they may be incompetent. Tillerson went as far as to suggest the possibility that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has outsmarted Vladimir Putin.

“I hope that Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alignment with Bashar al-Assad. because every time one of these attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer to some form of responsibility,” Tillerson went on to say.

Stephanopoulos asked Tillerson what will happen if it is determined that Russia is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

“That is going to be clearly very damaging to U.S.-Russian relations. I do not believe that the Russians want to have worsening relationships with the U.S.,” Tillerson said.