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Tillerson: US-Russia ties could still get worse

© AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) over the weekend

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday he will meet with his Russian opposite number Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the weekend, but warned US-Russia ties could still get worse.

Some in Moscow and Washington had hoped relations between the former Cold War foes might improve under US President Donald Trump, who has had warm words for President Vladimir Putin.

But the great power rivals remain divided over Russia's intervention in Ukraine, US sanctions against Kremlin allies and Moscow's support for Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime.

Tillerson has never tried to sugarcoat the problems, and admitted in March after a visit to the Kremlin that ties were at a "historic low" with little sign of improvement.

But now Trump is poised to sign into law a bill to further tighten sanctions and Putin has ordered the US diplomatic mission in Russia to cut hundreds of staff.

"And the question, I think, of the events of the last week or so, is it getting worse or can we maintain some level of stability in that relationship?" Tillerson asked.

Tillerson said the US Congress decision to pass the sanctions bill had made attempts to thaw ties "more difficult," but that "all the indications are" that Trump will sign it.

In the meantime, Tillerson plans to meet Lavrov in Manila on the sidelines of an ASEAN ministerial meeting.

A special prosecutor is investigating whether Trump advisers colluded with what US intelligence has concluded was an attempt by Russia to covertly support his 2016 campaign.

The US president, who often called for warmer ties with Moscow during the White House race, has furiously denied the charge, which has further clouded relations.

© 2017 AFP