Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that dictator Bashar al-Assad could face international war crimes charges for his role in killing hundreds of thousands of his own people, including those murdered in a chemical weapons attack in Syria on April 4.
“It’s possible that case will be made,” Tillerson said during a joint press conference with Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
Tillerson called the threshold for international war crimes charges a “high legal hurdle,” but said he had knowledge that “there are individuals” who are exploring that possibility.
Tillerson also said that the facts available to the United States were “conclusive” that Syrian government forces carried out the chemical weapons attack.
Lavrov dismissed the claim at the press conference, asking for evidence and accusing the U.S. of having a “fixation” on regime change.
“The fixation to try to oust this or that dictator is well known to us and we know how that ends,” Lavrov said.
Despite earlier reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not meet with Tillerson, a meeting has taken place, according to Putin’s spokesman.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting US Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov at the Kremlin,” Dmitry Peskov said.
Peskov did not reveal what would be discussed at the meeting between Putin and Tillerson.
Before leaving on his latest diplomatic trip to Europe and Russia, Tillerson said Russia played a role in the recent chemical attack because it had failed in its promise under several United Nations resolutions to remove chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria.
“Russia has failed to uphold the agreements that had been entered into under multiple UN Security Council resolutions,” Tillerson said. “These agreements stipulated Russia as the guarantor of a Syria free of chemical weapons, that they would also locate, secure, and destroy all such armaments in Syria.”
“Stockpiles and continued use demonstrate that Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on this 2013 commitment,” Tillerson said. “It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously or Russia has been incompetent, but this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead.”