U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says there is "almost no trust" at present between the United States and Russia, mentioning arms-control agreements and Ukraine as areas where Moscow "is not being particularly helpful today."
Tillerson made the remarks to staff at the State Department in Washington on May 3 in a wide-ranging presentation about the department's future under President Donald Trump and in the face of possibly severe cuts to its budget.
"We have a number of efforts under way to first stabilize the relationship [between the United States and Russia]," Tillerson said. "Acting Deputy Secretary [of State Thomas] Shannon is leading a working-group effort to see if we can address some of the things that are just irritating the relationship, that make it hard for us to talk to one another even in civil tones."
Tillerson said he plans to discuss cooperation on resolving the war in Syria with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of an Arctic Council event in Fairbanks, Alaska on May 10-11.
He also said the United States is preparing fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang's continued development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
He said Washington was working with Beijing to pressure North Korea, but if that is not effective, the United States could even impose "third-country sanctions" against companies, including Chinese companies, that do business in North Korea.
"We have been leaning hard into China to test their willingness," Tillerson said. He emphasized that the only U.S. goal is to pressure North Korea to "denuclearize," and that Washington was not seeking "regime change" or the accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
He urged the international community to fully implement existing UN sanctions against North Korea, saying "no one has ever fully implemented them."
Tillerson also said Washington should not impose conditions on other countries willing to engage with the United States if doing so "creates obstacles" to achieving U.S. economic and security objectives.
But he said this does not mean the United States would refrain from being an advocate for freedom and human rights around the world.
He said that Trump's "America First" policy was aimed at rebalancing U.S. relationships with its allies.
Over the last 20 years, Tillerson said, the United States "just kind of lost track of how we were doing."
With reporting by Reuters and AP