While the US and Russia's top diplomats meet for the first time to discuss war in Syria, President Donald Trump and his counterpart Vladimir Putin take to television to berate each other.

US Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov during his visit to Moscow, Russia on April 12, 2017
US Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov during his visit to Moscow, Russia on April 12, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his Russian counterpart in Wednesday's meeting that he wanted to use talks in Moscow to understand why Russia and Washington had sharp differences and find a way to bridge those gaps.

The tense negotiations with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov come at a time when the US and Russia have traded blame over chemical attacks in Syria, which has entered its seventh year of war. Lavrov and Tillerson's talks are expected to focus on Syria and allegations that Russia interfered in US elections. Tillerson said he aims to clear up "sharp differences" with Russia.

Tillerson said both countries have agreed that their lines of communications must stay open.

Minutes before, Lavrov said it was important not to allow a repeat of US strikes in Syria which were unlawful.

Russia has lots of questions about the "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas coming from the US, Lavrov said. Speaking through a translator, he said it was important for Russia to understand the "real intentions" of the Trump administration.

Deteriorating ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin said relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated in the early months of Donald Trump's presidency.

"It can be said that the level of trust at the working level, especially at the military level, has not become better, but most likely has degraded," Putin said in an interview broadcast Wednesday by state television channel Mir as Tillerson held his first meeting with Lavrov.

Putin also asserted that Syria has complied with an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons "so far as we know."

He reiterated previous Russian assertions that the chemical weapons attack last week that prompted a US Tomahawk missile barrage on a Syrian air base was either a rebel provocation or caused by Syrian warplanes hitting a rebel chemical weapons facility. The US launched 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat airfield and nearby military infrastructure controlled by Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad last Thursday to retaliate against the chemical weapons attack, that killed over 80 people, many of them children.

Putin may meet Tillerson later on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Chemical attacks

As Tillerson was carrying a message from world powers to Moscow denouncing Russian support for Syrian regime leader Assad, the White House released a report accusing Russia of trying to shield Syria's regime from blame for last week's deadly gas attack.

"The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017," the document reads.

TRT Worldn's Iolo ap Dafydd has more on the complex ties between Russia and the US.

Trump on Putin

Earlier US President Donald Trump said Putin was backing an "evil person" in Syria.

He called Syrian regime leader Assad "an animal" on Fox Business Network, adding that Putin's support for Assad is "very bad for Russia" and "very bad for mankind."

Trump is increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon Assad while Tillerson is in Moscow.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies