Tillerson readies for tough talk with Russia – Nahal Toosi 04/11/17 05:14 AM EDT


The secretary of state’s visit to Moscow following the U.S. missile strike in Syria could help shape the Trump administration’s Russia policy.=S

 

Rex Tillerson’s seemingly cozy ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew bipartisan alarm and nearly derailed his confirmation as secretary of state.

But some three months later, as the former ExxonMobil CEO heads to Moscow on his first trip as America’s top diplomat, it’s hard to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin once gave him an “Order of Friendship” award.

As Washington and Moscow clash over Syria, Tillerson has seized the moment to berate Russia and prove he’s no pro-Kremlin stooge. Along the way, Tillerson also is showing that, contrary to popular belief, he has plenty of influence on President Donald Trump and is increasingly coming into his own as secretary of state.

“People who felt he was out of the loop were not doing their basic due diligence,” a senior Trump administration official said.

The stakes are high for Tillerson’s meetings Wednesday in Moscow, setting the tone for the future of thwe U.S.-Russia relationship under Trump.

The Kremlin has expressed fury over Trump’s decision to stage a missile attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime after it allegedly killed dozens in a chemical attack. It’s not even clear whether Putin will meet with Tillerson; if he doesn’t, it will be a high-profile snub. At the same time, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are demanding that Trump come up with a broader Syria strategy that goes beyond one missile strike.

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