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Kremlin: Putin won’t meet with Tillerson Wednesday

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The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin does not plan on meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he visits Moscow on Wednesday.

“We have not announced any such meetings and right now there is no meeting with Tillerson in the president’s diary,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a Monday conference call, according to Reuters.

The decision to not receive Tillerson could raise tensions between the U.S. and Russia following the American airstike on Syria. The Trump administration launched a missile strike last week in response to a chemical attack officials attributed to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Russia has been a staunch backer of Assad during the country’s civil war, and Peskov said Monday that it would not abandon that support.

“Returning to pseudo-attempts to resolve the crisis by repeating mantras that Assad must step down cannot help sort things out,” Peskov said.

According to media reports, Tillerson could use his Russia trip to push the Kremlin to back away from Assad.

Tillerson is still expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, his direct counterpart, during his stop in Moscow, according to Reuters.

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Peskov did not specify why Putin would not meet Tillerson during his first journey to Russia as secretary of State.

Tillerson served as Exxon Mobil Corp.’s CEO before joining the Trump administration and has met Putin several times in the past.

Putin personally awarded Tillerson a top Russian state award called the Order of Friendship during a visit by the then-oil executive in 2013.

Moscow and Washington are increasingly at odds over President Trump’s decision to authorize the missile strikes in Syria last week.

Warships reportedly fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a military air base on the evening of April 7.

U.S. and Western officials believe Shayrat was the launching site of a chemical attack conducted by forces loyal to Assad’s government April 5.

Tillerson cited the incident, which reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including children, in criticizing Russia Sunday.

“I’m disappointed here, because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“[Last week’s attack] in large measure is a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”

Reuters said Tillerson would likely discuss other sensitive topics besides Syria on his trip, including Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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