The United States and Russia have “almost no trust between us,” and the relationship between the two countries is getting worse, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday.
The erosion of cooperation and trust between the two premier nuclear powers is dangerous and unsustainable, Tillerson told State Department employees, and he pledged to try to improve it.
“That’s what we are hoping that we can begin to build a way where we can learn how to work together,” Tillerson said. “I don’t know whether we can or not.”
Tillerson said he had addressed the deterioration of the relationship directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Moscow last month.
“I characterized to President Putin our relationship was the lowest since the Cold War,” Tillerson said. “He did not disagree.”
Friction points include competing aims in Syria and the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, Tillerson said. He did not mention the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies the allegation.
President Donald Trump’s affinity for Russia and Putin was a recurring theme of the election, and the administration took office with hopes of striking a bargain with Russia that could defuse conflict in Syria.
The relationship has gone downhill since, and Tillerson said he will try to “rebuild some trust, because today there’s almost no trust between us.”
He noted that he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week, and he expressed hopes that the two can eventually help broker a cease-fire in Syria.
He described his approach this way: “Work some small things, can we work one big thing together.”