Relations between the United States and Russia, at their lowest level since the Cold War, will not restart “with a clean slate,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday.
The former ExxonMobil CEO, who was decorated in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, had said previously that the relationship between the two nuclear powers had hit its lowest point since the Soviet collapse in 1991.
His Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — whom Trump hosted at the White House on Wednesday — said the same.
Speaking on NBC on Sunday, Tillerson reiterated that relations had fallen to “an all-time low point since the end of the Cold War, with a very low level of trust.”
“It is not healthy for the world,” he said. “It’s certainly not healthy for us, for the American people, our national security interest and otherwise, for this relationship to remain at this low level.”
However, “whether we can improve it or not remains to be seen,” he added.
Although Tillerson said he is “committed” to improving relations — which have been especially tense since 2012 thanks to differences over Syria and, later, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — he expressed deep skepticism about the prospects for doing so.
He ruled out relaunching relations with a “clean slate,” similar to the attempt at a “reset” by former president Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in 2009.
“We’re starting with the slate we have,” he said, “all the problems that are on that slate. We don’t dismiss any of them.”
President Donald Trump, who has expressed admiration for Putin, has repeatedly said that Washington should try to improve its relations with Moscow to tackle terrorism and other pressing problems around the world.
“I think terms like having a reset are overused,” Tillerson said. “You cannot reset. You cannot erase the past.”
Asked about US intelligence reports that Russia meddled in last year’s US presidential election campaign, Tillerson said, “I don’t think there’s any question that the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes.”
However, “it’s inconclusive as to what, if any, effect it had,” he added.
Still, “we have to look at this relationship in its broadest contours,” Tillerson said. “There are many, many important areas which require our attention if we are to bring it back to a relationship that we believe is necessary for the security of the US.”