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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Tillerson and Russia's Lavrov discuss Syria ahead of UN General Assembly

The two men 'recommitted to deconflicting military operations in Syria, reducing the violence, and creating the conditions for the Geneva process to move forward', said a US state department spokeswoman

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, right, leaves the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation in New York on September 17, 2017, after a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Craig Ruttle / AP
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, right, leaves the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation in New York on September 17, 2017, after a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Craig Ruttle / AP

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly.

After the meeting on Sunday, which took place at the Russian delegation to the United Nations, Mr Tillerson left without saying anything to reporters. Press had initially been invited in to cover the opening of the talks but then asked to leave before the US official arrived.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said "the meeting was on co-operation in [the] Syria crisis, Middle East issues and Minsk agreement", but when asked how it went said she had not been in the room.

Mr Tillerson and Mr Lavrov "met this evening in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly", state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

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"The two recommitted to deconflicting military operations in Syria, reducing the violence, and creating the conditions for the Geneva process to move forward."

Ties between the US and Russia are at what Mr Tillerson has called a "historic" post-Cold War low, amid tit-for-tat cuts to each other's diplomatic missions.

But Washington wants to work with Moscow to help resolve the crisis in Syria, where both countries have military forces deployed, and the rivals are trying to work through their differences.

On Sunday, Russia denied hitting US-backed Syrian forces fighting ISIL in an air strike near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor a day before.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Russian-backed Syrian government forces are conducting parallel but separate offensives against ISIL in Deir Ezzor province, the last Syrian province still largely held by the extremists.

General Joe Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, about Saturday's incident, and that Mr Tillerson had also addressed the subject with Mr Lavrov.

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"I spoke with Gerasimov, secretary Tillerson has spoken to foreign minister Lavrov. We have had communications at three different levels," Gen Dunford said on Sunday.

He said Russian forces were pursuing ISIL fighters who had fled across the Euphrates river when their jets struck close enough to injure US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces troops in the area.

Syrian government troops are engaged in an offensive against Deir Ezzor city, while SDF fighters are battling the extremists further east across the Euphrates.

"We have been engaged at every level to re-establish deconfliction at the Euphrates river. It couldn't be more complex and crowded in that area, and so deconfliction is more difficult right now than it was a few months ago," he added.

"We haven't resolved all the issues right now. We'll get through that."

Russian president Vladimir Putin will not attend the General Assembly this week, but US president Donald Trump will make his much anticipated first address to the world body on Tuesday.

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