US relations with Russia 'may be at an all-time low' says Donald Trump
US relations with Russia "may be at an all-time low" said Donald Trump as he moved ever further away from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.
"Right now we're not getting along with Russia at all," Mr Trump said flatly during a White House news conference with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
It was a grim assessment that echoed the words of the president's top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left an almost two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow declaring the countries had reached a "low point" in relations.
Mr Trump said Mr Tillerson had completed a successful meeting with Mr Putin, where "things went pretty well".
But he said it was an open question where relations go from here.
He said "it would be a fantastic thing" if the two nations got along better but cautioned that "it may be just the opposite".
Could Syria have launched the chemical weapons attack with Russia's advance knowledge? Mr Trump said it was "certainly possible" though "probably unlikely".
The less-than-positive assessments of relations by both Mr Trump and Mr Tillerson reflected the former Cold War foes' inability to forge greater co-operation, as Mr Trump until recently has advocated.
More than 80 people were killed in what the US has described as a nerve gas attack that Syrian president Bashar Assad's forces undoubtedly carried out.
Russia says rebels were responsible for whatever chemical agent was found, which the Trump administration calls a disinformation campaign.
The Moscow news conference came after Mr Putin met Mr Tillerson for the first time since Mr Trump took office.
The diplomats know each other well from Mr Tillerson's days as Exxon Mobil chief executive.
Beyond Syria, Russia's alleged meddling in the US presidential election also hovered over what was the first face-to-face encounter between Mr Putin and any Trump administration Cabinet member.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov blasted US claims that it has "irrefutable evidence" of election interference.
He also rejected American claims of incontrovertible evidence that Assad ordered the chemical attack.
Still, Mr Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings.
He said working groups would be established to improve US-Russian ties and identify problems.
He said the two sides would also discuss disagreements on Syria and how to end the country's six-year civil war.
But such hopes appeared optimistic as the diplomats outlined their sharply diverging views on Syria.
Until the chemical attack, the Trump administration had sought to step back from the US position that Assad should leave power.
But Mr Tillerson repeated the administration's new belief that "the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end".
Mr Tillerson was greeted frostily in the Russian capital as Mr Lavrov began their meeting on Wednesday by demanding to know America's "real intentions".
"We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria," Mr Lavrov said, referring to the Tomahawk missiles Mr Trump launched at a Syrian air base to punish Assad for using chemical weapons.
"We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future."
Only weeks ago, it appeared that Mr Trump, who praised Mr Putin throughout the US election campaign, was poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russia.
Any expectations of an easy rapport have crashed into reality amid the nasty back-and-forth over Syria and ongoing US investigations into Russia's activity connected to the US presidential election.