Tillerson to travel to Russia next week

Tillerson to travel to Russia next week
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to travel next week to Russia.

Tillerson is set to go to Moscow on April 12, when he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials, according to the State Department.

During those meetings, Tillerson will discuss Ukraine, counterterrorism efforts and bilateral relations, among other issues.

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"This trip is part of our effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure U.S. views are clearly conveyed, including on next steps in Minsk implementation," the statement from acting spokesman Mark Toner said, referring to the Minsk agreements to deescalate the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.

Reports surfaced last month that Tillerson would visit Moscow in April.

The trip comes after Tillerson on Tuesday urged Russia and Iran to prevent Syrian President Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons attacks following a deadly attack against civilians.

"While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism," Tillerson said in a statement.

"Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions," Tillerson continued. "Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable."

Tillerson encouraged Russia and Iran to commit to a peace agreement in the region and to "exercise their influence" over Assad to prevent future chemical attacks.

President Trump on Tuesday blamed the "heinous actions" of Assad's regime on the Obama administration's "weakness and irresolution."

"President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing," Trump said in a statement. "The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack."

Trump didn't say how his administration would respond to the attack, considered the worst chemical weapons strike in Syria in years.

The strike — carried out in the rebel-held area of Idlib Province — reportedly killed dozens of people, including children, and injured more.

Moscow has argued that removing the Syrian leader from power would only further destabilize the region.

This report was updated at 10:46 a.m.