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    Tillerson Plan Would Sound Good If Trump Wasn't 'Bound Hand & Foot by Congress'

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    US media have reported on a classified three-point plan by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to try and normalize relations with Moscow. Russian officials say the plan sounds well and good, but recent experiences lead them to have their doubts, especially given US lawmakers' efforts to effectively stall initiatives by the White House.

    On Monday, Buzzfeed reported on a three-point framework for dealing with and improving relations with Russia. The first point aims to convince Moscow to refrain from what Washington sees as 'aggressive actions against the United States' through a strategy of pushback. The second calls for engagement with Russia on issues of strategic interest, including Syria, North Korea's nuclear program, cybersecurity, and ramping up cooperation against Daesh. Washington wants Moscow's help to isolate Pyongyang economically. Finally, the third point emphasizes the importance of maintaining strategic stability between the nuclear powers.

    Commenting on the plan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that at this point, Moscow is aware of the Tillerson plan's existence based only on what media reports are saying.

    Broadly speaking, Russian officials have up to this point given the so-called Tillerson plan a positive assessment, although all of them are cautious over the Trump administration's real intentions, and over the fact that the White House appears to be restricted in its ability to actually set and implement US foreign policy.

    Russian Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Konstantin Kosachev has provided Russian media with an extended commentary regarding the initiative.

    Speaking to RIA Novosti, the senator said that plans for improving Russian-US Russian relations had been outlined by the Russian side a long time ago. Today, Kosachev noted, a real rapprochement "is being hampered only by the anti-Russian consensus by both parties on Capitol Hill."

    Kosachev emphasized that if the Tillerson plan is actually backed by a concrete strategy, it would be doubly interesting for Moscow, "because then there will be something to work with. But it is obvious that the three point Tillerson plan can be both a platform for dialogue and a barrier to it."

    "The point about maintaining strategic stability with Russia is undoubtedly a priority," the senator emphasized. "Here, Russia and the US are the world leaders, and the situation in the sphere of disarmament and arms control depends first and foremost on them."

    As far as the leaked plan's point about Russia's 'acts of aggression against the United States', Kosachev said that this point was formulated incorrectly. "I can say with total certainty that not a single Russian action has been specifically directed against the US – not in Ukraine, not in Syria, nor anywhere else," the senator noted. The same is true "even in situations where our militaries find themselves dangerously close in the course of exercises, not least because Russia does not carry out its drills in the Gulf of Mexico."

    Members of US Army's 4th Infantry Division 3rd Brigade Combat Team 68th Armor Regiment 1st Battalion stand in front of an Abrams battle tank after arriving at the Gaiziunai railway station, some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.
    © AP Photo/ Mindaugas Kulbis
    Members of US Army's 4th Infantry Division 3rd Brigade Combat Team 68th Armor Regiment 1st Battalion stand in front of an Abrams battle tank after arriving at the Gaiziunai railway station, some 110 kms (69 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

    Put another way, the senator said that the problem wasn't 'Russia's aggression', but the US interpretation of Moscow's actions, and perhaps more importantly – the way the US interprets its own interests. "If their interests are the entire world, then any country defending its own interests is automatically classified as an 'aggressor'," Kosachev noted.

    Finally, regarding the Tillerson plan's second point — about cooperation in Syria, North Korea, cybersecurity, and against terrorism, Kosachev stressed that this too was a matter of how the US itself interprets such cooperation. 

    "On Syria – there is no room for discussion about how to fight against that country's legitimate government; as for joint actions against the terrorists – this is something we have persistently called for for a long time," the senator said.

    On Sunday, a US warplane shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet in the Syrian province of Raqqa. Russia responded by suspending Russian-US cooperation over Syrian airspace, and promising to intercept any US-led coalition aircraft in Russia's area of operations in the country.

    As far as North Korea was concerned, Kosachev noted that if cooperation "does not mean using a big stick, or moving provocative strategic military systems into the region, but strengthening the existing international [negotiations] format," cooperation can be achieved.

    Russia has insisted on resolving the Korean nuclear and missile crisis peacefully, and on the need to maintain a strategic balance in the region. Moscow is opposed to the US deployment of its THAAD missile defense system in the region, which Moscow has said targets the Chinese and Russian strategic deterrent, not North Korea's missiles. Russian analysts have also said that Moscow's growing trade ties with Pyongyang in recent months may also be an apple of discord as far as the Tillerson plan is concerned.

    As for cybersecurity – Kosachev said that if the only topic is about 'how to deal with Russian hackers,' this is not enough for dialogue. "Otherwise, we are of course ready, especially considering the percentage of cyberattacks [against Russia] which are launched from US territory," the senator concluded.

    A small aircraft what South Korea's Military said is believed to be a North Korean drone, is seen at a mountain near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Inje, South Korea in this handout picture provided by the Defence Ministry and released by News1 on June 9, 2017
    © REUTERS/ The Defence Ministry/News1
    Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, was similarly cautious in his appraisal of the Tillerson plan, telling Russian media that while talk of cooperation with Russia on Syria was encouraging, the danger is that the rhetoric may not match reality.

    "It is too early to give any optimistic forecasts about the implementation of the Tillerson plan," Slutsky said. "Constructive language once again provokes optimism, but unfortunately, given the experience of recent months, that is, the first months of Trump's presidency…I'm afraid that the rhetoric will once again fail to be matched by actions."

    "It would be nice to see this plan implemented – there's nothing more to say. It would be nice to see constructive consultations on the most important issues [facing the world], including nuclear deterrence, security and cooperation across different continents, including Europe. Russia and the US are the world's two biggest nuclear powers, and should be close partners; at the same time, cooperation between our two countries is simply frozen," the lawmaker said.

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    expert commentary, Tillerson Plan, Leonid Slutsky, Konstantin Kosachev, Rex Tillerson, Russia, United States
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