Tillerson: Russia must pick between US and Syria

Tillerson: Russia must pick between US and Syria
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Russia must choose between its alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad and cooperation with the United States in opposing the Syrian administration, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonUS steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business Matt Drudge shares mock ‘Survivor’ cover suggesting more White House officials will leave this summer 'Daily Show' trolls Trump over Pruitt's resignation MORE said Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

"We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role," Tillerson told reporters. "Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia's interests longer term."

Tillerson's comments came a week after a chemical attack in northern Syria allegedly carried out by forces loyal to Assad killed more than 80 civilians. The U.S. responded to that attack last Thursday by launching a missile strike on a Syrian military air base.

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The retaliatory strike received general support from world leaders. But Russia, a staunch backer of Assad in the nation's ongoing civil war, fiercely condemned the attack as an act of "aggression."

Tillerson later Tuesday is set to travel to Russia, where he will meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not planning on meeting with the secretary of State. 

Tillerson has taken an increasingly tough stance against Assad in recent days — a reversal from last late month, when the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. signaled that removing the authoritarian leader from power was not of concern to the U.S.