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US administration has no clear foreign policy strategy yet

An analyst comments on the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow


The US administration has not yet formulated a clear foreign policy strategy largely because President Donald Trump’s team has not been finalized, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of US and Canada Studies, Valery Garbuzov, told in an interview, when asked about the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow and his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“What makes US President Donald Trump’s Administration so special is that conceptually the understanding of the domestic policy has taken shape, while utter chaos remains in the realm of foreign policy,” Garbuzov said. “What makes the chaos still worse is that the presidential team, in particular, that of the Department of State, has not been finalized yet.”

“With the advent of Donald Trump some senior functionaries quit the Department of State. Many positions are still vacant,” he recalled. “One can say that in the current situation Tillerson is a general without an army. The US administration lacks the fundamental understanding of how to go about the business of building foreign relations and with whom.”

Russian-US talks

“Tillerson’s visit to Moscow was his first in the capacity of chief of US diplomacy. This is what it will be remembered for first and foremost,” Garbuzov said. “As for some major results of the visit, not a single expert of authority had expected the two sides would be able to forge a specific agreement on some crucial problem, including Syria, North Korea and Ukraine.”

Garbuzov believes the purpose of Tillerson’s visit was “to let either side – the US one in its new capacity and composition – to speak one’s mind regarding all those problems that had emerged before Tillerson took over to become a matter of discord between the two countries.” “This is precisely what they have done now,” Garbuzov said. “Both parties have retained their vision of these issues.”

“The agreement to create a working group for the normalization of relations was another result,” Garbuzov said. “Amid the complete dismantling of Russian-US relations this looks like progress.”

“It remains to be seen who will be invited into this group and how it will be functioning. However, the very fundamental agreement is a tangible result. Everything will now depend on how seriously both countries approach the creation of this working group and its activities,” Garbuzov said.

He is certain that the group must work fast.

“There are old-time problems in Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. Their partial solution brooks no delay,” he believes. “The group must find out the root causes for such a divergence of opinion. For instance, why Russia and the United States have so different interpretations of events, such as the chemical incident in Idlib.”

“The interpretation of these events is different, because either party is suspicious the partner is cheating,” Garbuzov said. “All this must be discussed once again. Then trust will be restored.”

Mending trust between Russia and the United States

Tillerson’s visit to Moscow alone will be unable to restore lost confidence. “Presenting solid arguments to back up one’s position is the sole way of regaining it,” he said. “Only then the other country may agree to revise its own stance.”

“This is a no easy way,” Garbuzov said. “Either country will have to acknowledge its mistakes. Some other nuances may emerge. This is how compromises are achieved.”
“Progress in Russian-US relations will begin when a compromise has materialized,” he remarked. “For the time being there is none.”

About the Ukrainian crisis he said this theme faded into the background lately.

“If there are changes for the better over Syria, the Ukrainian problem will emerge in the forefront at once. The issues of Crimea and Donbass will follow. Both are of fundamental importance to Russia,” Garbuzov said. “Russia and the United States will find it far easier to achieve a compromise over Syria than over Ukraine.”