Donald Trump says US - Russia relations have reached a 'low point' but reverses position on Nato

Donald Trump has described US relations with Russia as at "an all-time low" over the Syria crisis but reversed his position on Nato, saying the alliance was "no longer obsolete".

The US president said that "right now we're not getting along with Russia at all" after Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, had attempted to persuade Vladimir Putin to distance himself from Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned the purpose of Nato, but, amid rising tensions with Russia, he called it a "bulwark of international peace and security" yesterday and hailed its role in the fight against terrorism.

He said "it would be a fantastic thing" if the US, Nato and Russia got along better but warned that "it may be just the opposite".

Mr Tillerson held a two-hour meeting with Mr Putin earlier yesterday in an attempt to to persuade the Russian president to abandon his unwavering support for Mr Assad following last week's chemical weapons attack. 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands in Moscow

However, on Wednesday night Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the sarin gas attack in Idlib province. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said he was "dismayed" by the decision and that it put Russia "on the wrong side of the argument".

"The international community sought to make clear that any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere is unacceptable and that those responsible will face consequences," Mr Johnson said.

"So I am dismayed that Russia has once again blocked the UN Security Council and in so doing refused to condemn the use of chemical weapons or support a full UN investigation into the attack."

Mr Tillerson, who is the first Trump administration official to meet Mr Putin, said: "The world’s foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship."  

Moscow and Washington were plunged into the latest of a series of crises when Mr Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after a poison gas attack in rebel-held Idlib province killed at least 86 people, including more than 30 children, last Tuesday.

Russia condemned the US strike as a violation of international law and suspended a hotline between the two country’s militaries in Syria in protest at the strike.

Earlier on Wednesday Mr Putin expressed barely disguised frustration with Mr Trump, saying relations between Russia and the US had actually deteriorated since the new president was sworn in.

"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," Mr Putin  said in an interview broadcast yesterday by state television channel Mir. 

Mr Putin’s comments came after the White House accused the Kremlin of attempting to cover up the gas attack and Mr Trump said Russia’s relationship with Assad was "bad for mankind".

"Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person," Mr Trump told the Fox Business Network, referring to Mr Assad. "I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Meets With President Trump At The White House

Of Mr Assad, Mr Trump added: "This is an animal."

Mr Tillerson and Mr Lavrov announced a number of measures to cool the confrontation, including by reinstating the de-confliction hotline. The two agreed on the need to restore dialogue over the crisis in Syria.

However, they were clear that fundamental differences remained about Mr Assad’s future and guilt for the gas attack.

“We discussed at length the future role for Assad, whether it is in a future political process or not," Mr Tillerson said about his meeting with Mr Putin.

"The US view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end they have brought that upon them selves. We put forward the view that Russia is perhaps in a position to help Mr Assad recognise that,” he added.

Mr Tillerson said evidence that Mr Assad’s regime planned and carried out the attack was “conclusive.”

Mr Lavrov said there was no evidence of regime guilt for the attack and flatly rejected calls for Russia to collaborate in regime change, saying “we already knew all too well how this ends.”

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