Tillerson: US has ‘poor relationship’ with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. and Russia have a “poor relationship,” a declaration made in a year-end New York Times op-ed he wrote assessing the State Department during his 2017 tenure.

Tillerson’s piece for the Thursday morning edition of the Times maintained the balance he has sought to strike in public on Russia, navigating opposition to Russia for aggression while seeking potential cooperation on key issues.

“On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with,” Tillerson said. “The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others.”

He said in the piece, as he did earlier in December, that the U.S. will not have “business as usual” with Russia until the conflict ends in Ukraine. A State Department official told CNN last week that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with lethal anti-tank weapons.

Tillerson also said the U.S. must “recognize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect” and cited the war in Syria as the highest priority for potential cooperation between the two nations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN there has never been “close cooperation” between the United States and Russia on Syria. Peskov directed specific inquiries on Tillerson’s op-ed to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“The political will to cooperate is needed on the Syrian arrangement, meanwhile there is no such cooperation,” Peskov said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded to the piece at her weekly news briefing by calling it “confrontational” and “fake news.”

“It’s time for American politicians and diplomats to realize that nothing can be achieved from Russia by methods of power, economic influence and pressure, and the illusion that Washington’s policy is built on has long ago discredited itself in the international arena as well,” she said.

Tillerson’s article touched on other major issues facing the State Department at home and abroad, including North Korea. Tillerson said the hope of the U.S. was still to pressure North Korea into “serious negotiations” that would lead to the end of the isolated nation’s nuclear program.

“A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson has floated the possibility of talks between the U.S. and North Korea several times, and in turn, the White House has pushed back. Earlier in December, Tillerson offered to “sit down and see each other face to face,” and both the White House and State Department stated that the U.S. is not ready to begin talks.

In the fall, Tillerson said he hoped to resolve the dispute with talks. Trump responded on Twitter, saying Tillerson “is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Finally, Tillerson talked up his vision for reform at the State Department, saving money and paring down.

His plan to reshape the State Department has led to staunch criticism from among some of the department’s own ranks, and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in November acknowledged the “morale issue” there.

Tillerson, in his op-ed, defended his reform vision, saying it “doesn’t involve simply shifting boxes on an organizational chart,” and closed out by praising the “patriotic and dedicated State Department employees.”

“We are giving our people more opportunities to flourish professionally and spend more time confronting the global problems they have dedicated their careers to solving,” he wrote.