North Korea says no U.S. talks planned at Olympics, Pence vows continued pressure

Members of North Korean cheering squad arrive at a hotel in Inje, South Korea, February 7, 2018.

By Christine Kim and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) – North Korea has no intention of meeting U.S. officials during the Winter Olympics that start in South Korea on Friday, state media said, dampening hopes the Games will help resolve a tense standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

However, the North’s high-ranking delegation, including the younger sister of its leader Kim Jong Un, will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and have lunch with him on Saturday.

Such a meeting would be the first such event between a South Korean head of state and a member of the Kim family since a 2007 summit meeting of Kim Jong Il and late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has described North Korea as the world’s most tyrannical regime, spoke with Moon on Thursday ahead of the opening ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily armed border with the reclusive North.

Friday’s ceremony will be attended by North Korea’s delegation, including its nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North’s leader, and her entourage, will travel by private jet to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport on Friday, North Korea told the South.

“We have never begged for dialogue with the U.S. nor in the future, too,” the North’s KCNA news agency said, citing Jo Yong Sam, a director-general in the North’s foreign ministry.

“Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in South Korea… Our delegation’s visit to South Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding.”

The United States had not requested talks with North Korea, but Pence left open the possibility of some contact although his message for denuclearisation remained unchanged.

In opening remarks during his meeting with Moon, Pence said the United States would never waver in its goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile program through strong pressure, an aim shared with South Korea.

Pence has said Washington would soon unveil “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” while South Korea wants to use the Olympics to re-engage with the North.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters all sides, not just the two Koreas, needed to work hard and dialogue between the United States and North Korea should be expanded for this to happen, Wang said.

“You can’t have it that one person opens the door and another closes it,” he said.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programmes as necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the war.

MILITARY PARADE

North Korea marked the founding anniversary of its army with a large military parade in Pyongyang on Thursday broadcast by state media, having last month changed the date of the celebration to the eve of the Olympics.

Kim Jong Un, in a black hat and matching coat, saluted troops while his wife walked beside him, television images showed. One of Kim’s close aides, Choe Ryong Hae, and Kim Yong Nam were also in attendance.

The North’s state media also showed what appeared to be intercontinental ballistic missiles on launchers as thousands of North Koreans filled Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in Pyongyang.

“We have destroyed the enemy’s risk-taking provocations at every move,” Kim Jong Un said in a speech. He did not mention the United States, which North Korea considers its main enemy and regularly threatens to destroy in a sea of flames.

Analysts said the parade seemed smaller than those of previous years, but was still focused on the North’s goal of strengthening its nuclear missile capabilities.

Trump has ordered Pentagon and White House officials to begin planning a military parade in Washington similar to the Bastille Day parade he saw in Paris in July, the Washington Post said.

On Friday, before he attends the Olympic opening ceremony, Pence will visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in the 2010 sinking of a warship that Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack.

SEATING COMPLICATIONS

The 28-year-old sister of the North Korean leader will be the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into the South. Kim Yo Jong is a propaganda official blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over alleged human rights abuses and censorship.

“By sending key figures like his sister, Kim Jong Un is aiming to send a signal to the South that it is giving more weight to inter-Korean ties while driving a wedge between South Korea and the United States,” said Kim Sung-han, a former South Korean vice foreign minister.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also attend the ceremony, adding to seating complications for the hosts.

South Korea has asked the United Nations for an exemption to allow a U.N.-sanctioned North Korean official, Choe Hwi, to attend the opening ceremony with Kim Yo Jong.

Pyongyang has yet to mention any change in plans to send him, Seoul said.

The U.N. Security Council, which has slapped sanctions on North Korea for its weapons programmes, imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Choe last year when he was vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department.

A group of 280 North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, made up of a 229-member cheer squad, taekwondo performers, journalists and the sports minister.

(For graphic on North Korea’s Olympic delegations, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2E1Qa9Q)

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang and Josh Smith in SEOUL, Ossian Shine in PYEONGCHANG, Tim Kelly and Linda Sieg in TOKYO, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Netanyahu flies to Moscow for talks on Syria with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a meeting at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, Russia January 29, 2018.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow on Monday to discuss Israeli concerns about any expansion of Iran’s military foothold in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I will discuss with President Putin Iran’s relentless efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, which we strongly oppose and are also taking action against,” said Netanyahu, without elaborating, before boarding a plane for the visit, scheduled to last several hours.

Israel’s air force said last year it had struck suspected arms shipments to Iran’s ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, around 100 times.

Netanyahu said he and Putin “meet periodically in order to ensure the military coordination between the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian forces in Syria”.

Russia intervened in the civil war on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015. Iranian forces, Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite Muslim militias also back Assad.

Israel fears Iran could be left with a permanent garrison in Syria, extending a threat posed from neighboring Lebanon by Hezbollah, which has an extensive missile arsenal and last fought a war with the Israeli military in 2006.

Netanyahu said he also planned to discuss with Putin “Iran’s effort to turn Lebanon into one giant missile site, a site for precision missiles against the State of Israel, which we will not tolerate”.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

South Korea’s Moon says Trump deserves ‘big’ credit for North Korea talks

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during his New Year news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, January 10,

By Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued.

The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

North Korea ramped up its missile launches last year and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in some of the strongest international sanctions yet.

The latest sanctions sought to drastically cut the North’s access to refined petroleum imports and earnings from workers abroad. Pyongyang called the steps an “act of war”.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.

“I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

‘BASIC STANCE’

Washington had raised concerns that the overtures by North Korea could drive a wedge between it and Seoul, but Moon said his government did not differ with the United States over how to respond to the threats posed by Pyongyang.

“This initial round of talks is for the improvement of relations between North and South Korea. Our task going forward is to draw North Korea to talks aimed at the denuclearization of the North,” Moon said. “(It’s) our basic stance that will never be given up.”

Moon said he was open to meeting North Korea’s leader at any time to improve bilateral ties, and if the conditions were right and “certain achievements are guaranteed”.

“The purpose of it shouldn’t be talks for the sake of talks,” he said.

However, Pyongyang said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons with Seoul because they were only aimed at the United States, not its “brethren” in South Korea, nor Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough remained far off.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said all problems would be resolved through efforts by the Korean people alone.

“If the North and South abandon external forces and cooperate together, we will be able to fully solve all problems to match our people’s needs and our joint prosperity,” it said.

Washington still welcomed Tuesday’s talks as a first step toward solving the North Korean nuclear crisis. The U.S. State Department said it would be interested in joining future talks, with the aim of denuclearizing the North.

The United States, which still has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings. Trump later called them “a good thing” and said he would be willing to speak to Kim.

Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said it was wise of Moon to praise Trump, his sanctions and pressure campaign.

“By doing that, he can help the U.S. build logic for moving toward negotiations and turning around the state of affairs in the future, so when they were ready to talk to the North, they can say the North came out of isolation because the sanctions were effective.”

The United States and Canada are set to host a conference of about 20 foreign ministers on Jan. 16 in Vancouver to discuss North Korea, without the participation of China, Pyongyang’s sole major ally and biggest trade partner.

China would not attend the meeting and is resolutely opposed to it, said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” he told a regular briefing on Wednesday.

LARGE OLYMPICS DELEGATION

Pyongyang also said it would send a large delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Washington agreed with Seoul last week to postpone until after the Olympics joint military exercises that Pyongyang denounces as rehearsals for invasion. But it also said the apparent North-South thaw had not altered the U.S. intelligence assessment of the North’s weapons programs.

The United States has also warned that all options, including military, are on the table in dealing with the North.

“We cannot say talks are the sole answer,” Moon said. “If North Korea engages in provocations again or does not show sincerity in resolving this issue, the international community will continue applying strong pressure and sanctions.”

Seoul said on Tuesday it was prepared to offer financial assistance and lift some unilateral sanctions temporarily so North Koreans could attend the Olympics. North Korea said its delegation would include athletes and officials, among others.

However, Moon said on Wednesday South Korea had no plans for now to ease unilateral sanctions against North Korea, or revive economic exchanges that could run foul of United Nations sanctions.

Moon also said his government would continue working toward recovering the honor and dignity of former “comfort women”, a euphemism for those forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.

But historical issues should be separated from bilateral efforts with Japan to safeguard peace on the Korean peninsula, he added.

“It’s very important we keep a good relationship with Japan,” Moon said.

On Tuesday, South Korea said it would not seek to renegotiate a 2015 deal with Japan despite determining that the pact was insufficient to resolve the divisive issue, and urged Japan for more action to help the women.

 

(Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and Michael Martina in BEIJING, Writing by Soyoung Kim, Editing by Paul Tait)

South Korea offers talks with defiant North ahead of Olympics

People look toward the north through a barbed-wire fence near the militarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, December 21,

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday offered talks with North Korea amid a standoff over its weapons programs, a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to negotiations but that his country would push ahead with “mass producing” nuclear warheads.

The offer for high-level talks next Tuesday had been discussed with the United States, the South’s unification minister said, while a decision on whether to push back a massive joint military drill between South Korea and the United States until after the Winter Olympics was pending.

Tension has been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House. The North sees the regular war drills between the South and the United States as preparations for war.

“We look forward to candidly discussing interests from both sides face-to-face with North Korea along with the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon told reporters.

“I repeat, the government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”

Cho said he expects the dialogue at the border village of Panmunjom, if it happens, to be focused on North Korea’s participation at the Olympics in February, but other issues would likely arise, including the decentralization of North Korea.

Should the talks be held on Jan. 9, it would be the first such dialogue since a vice-ministerial meeting in December 2015.

The offer landed after a New Year’s Day speech by Kim who said he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and for North Korean athletes to possibly take part in the Winter Games, but he persistently declared North Korea a nuclear power.

After welcoming Kim’s address, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked his government earlier in the day to move as quickly as possible to bring North Korea to the Olympics.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the recent positive comments from both sides about improving relations, and Kim’s remarks about participating in the upcoming Olympics, were a “good thing”.

“China welcomes and supports North Korea and South Korea taking earnest efforts to treat this as an opportunity to improve mutual relations, promote the alleviation of the situation on the Korean peninsula and realize denuclearization on the peninsula.”

“DEEP BREATH” NEEDED

Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security adviser, said Seoul should have taken more time before reacting to Kim’s comments.

“I regret the government had even lost the flexibility to spend one day or two taking a deep breath and meticulously analyzing Kim Jong Un’s ulterior motive before hastily issuing a welcoming statement,” he said.

“The government will have to strive more to come up with a countermeasure not to get caught in a trap set by Kim Jong Un.”

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon Province where the Olympics are to be held next month, has proposed South Korea send cruise ships to bring North Korean athletes and officials to Pyeongchang, according to South Korean media.

Choi met North Korean sports official Mun Woong in China on Dec. 18 on the sidelines of a international youth football tournament where North and South Korea soccer teams competed, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported.

The governor did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment.

This week’s exchanges follow a year dominated by fiery threats form Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump who vowed to destroy North Korea if threatened, even as U.S. diplomats pushed for a diplomatic solution.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States, South Korea and Japan, tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile in November, which it said was capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the United States.

Kim said in a New Year’s Day speech on Monday he would consider sending a delegation to the Olympics.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

North Korea would focus in 2018 on “mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment”.

“The whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office and this is just a reality, not a threat,” he said, while emphasizing that the weapons would only be used if North Korea was threatened.

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a requests for comment on Kim’s address, but analysts said it was an attempt to weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

The Commerce Ministry in China, North Korea’s lone major ally, also said it will continue to fully implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

Trump said on Twitter last week that China has been “caught” allowing oil into North Korea and said such moves would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

North Korea likely to pursue talks, South says in rosy New Year forecast

South Korean soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the militarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, December 21, 2017

By Haejin Choi

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea predicted on Tuesday that North Korea would look to open negotiations with the United States next year in an optimistic outlook for 2018, even as Seoul set up a specialized military team to confront nuclear threats from the North.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new, tougher sanctions on reclusive North Korea on Friday for its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move the North branded an economic blockade and act of war.

“North Korea will seek negotiation with United States, while continuing to pursue its effort to be recognized as a de facto nuclear-possessing country,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a report, without offering any reasons for its conclusion.

The Ministry of Defence said it would assign four units to operate under a new official overseeing North Korea policy, aimed to “deter and respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat”.

Tensions have risen over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of U.N. Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House.

U.S. diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution but President Donald Trump has derided talks as useless and said Pyongyang must commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before any talks can begin.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea said the United States was terrified by its nuclear force and was getting “more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country”.

China, the North’s lone major ally, and Russia both supported the latest U.N. sanctions, which seek to limit the North’s access to refined petroleum products and crude oil and its earnings from workers abroad, while on Monday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for all countries to ease tension.

On Tuesday, Beijing released customs data indicating China exported no oil products to North Korea in November, apparently going over and beyond U.N. sanctions.

China, the main source of North Korea’s fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil to its neighbor last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

China also imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea in November.

In its 2018 forecast, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it believed the North would eventually find ways to blunt the effects of the sanctions.

“Countermeasures will be orchestrated to deal with the effects, including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, lack of supplies, and reduced production in each part of the economy,” the report said.

The latest round of sanctions was prompted by the Nov. 29 test of what North Korea said was an intercontinental ballistic missile that put the U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

The Joongang Ilbo Daily newspaper, citing an unnamed South Korean government official, reported on Tuesday that North Korea could also be preparing to launch a satellite into space.

Experts have said such launches are likely aimed at further developing the North’s ballistic missile technology, and as such would be prohibited under U.N. resolutions.

The North Korean Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Monday saying that “peaceful space development is a legitimate right of a sovereign state”.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan, and says its weapons are necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, and regularly carries out military exercises with the South, which the North sees as preparations for invasion.

(Additional reporting by Muyu Xu and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. will only talk to North Korea about freeing U.S. citizens: White House

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement on the mass shooting in Las Vegas from the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will not hold any talks with North Korea at this time, except for possible conversations about freeing U.S. citizens who have been detained there, the White House said on Monday.

“We’ve been clear that now is not the time to talk,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, amplifying on a tweet from President Donald Trump over the weekend that had been seen as undercutting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The only conversations that have taken place, or that would, would be on bringing back Americans who have been detained,” Sanders said. “Beyond that, there will be no conversations with North Korea at this time.”

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander)

 

No Korean military talks after North snubs South’s call

A concrete border is seen as a South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s proposed military talks aimed at easing tension between the two Koreas planned for Friday failed to happen after the North snubbed the call, a setback for new President Moon Jae-in’s hopes for dialogue.

The North has remained silent on the South Korean proposal, made on Monday, for talks on ways to avoid hostilities along their heavily fortified border.

Moon took office in May pledging to engage the North in dialogue, as well as to bring pressure on it to impede its nuclear and missile programs.

The proposal for talks came after the North said it conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on it.

South Korean defense ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing the military talks proposed for Friday were practically impossible as the North had not responded.

“It is an urgent needed task for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula to restore dialogue in the military area and to ease military tension between the South and the North,” he said.

Moon said the proposal for talks still stood and he urged the North to respond.

It was the first formal overture by South Korea since cross-border ties broke down early last year under the government of Moon’s predecessor, who imposed unilateral sanctions on the North for its nuclear tests and missile launches.

The North has conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests and a quick succession of missile-related activities since the beginning of 2016, after leader Kim Jong Un had pledged to improve ties with the South in a New Year’s address.

The South had proposed talks to discuss ways to end activities on the border that have fueled tension.

By that, South Korea usually refers to loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts by both sides, while North Korea wants an end to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Russia and USA, after Tillerson talks, agree modest steps to mend ties

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia,

By Yeganeh Torbati and Denis Dyomkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States agreed to set up a working group to try to mend their battered ties on Wednesday after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held lengthy talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin and the Russian foreign minister.

It was not clear until the last minute whether Putin would grant Tillerson an audience, but the fact that he did is likely to be seen as a sign that Moscow has not given up on the new U.S. administration and wants to try to improve ties which both sides agree are languishing at a post Cold War low.

A joint news conference between Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Tillerson showed how much work there is to do though as the Russian used many of his speaking opportunities to lambast Washington over its actions in Syria and what he said was its unhelpful foreign interference in the past.

Tillerson, on his first visit to Russia in his current role, struck a more conciliatory stance, but said ties and trust levels were at a low point and restated Washington’s position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must eventually relinquish power, a position starkly at odds with Russia.

“There is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson said. “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

Lavrov said that while Russia was not placing its hopes in Assad or any other individual in Syria, toppling the Syrian government was not an option and that a political process had to be allowed to play out.

“We discussed Assad today,” said Lavrov. “I don’t remember any positive examples of how a dictator was overthrown and everything was just fine afterwards.”

Differences over a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base last week also bubbled to the surface.

Washington says it acted to punish the Syrian government for what it said was a devastating nerve gas attack Damascus launched against its own people that killed scores.

Russia said the U.S. strike was illegal though and Lavrov repeated Moscow’s stance on Wednesday, saying an international investigation should be left to determine who was to blame and what happened.

It was wrong to blame Assad without knowing the facts, he said.

Tillerson said the United States was confident that Assad’s forces were behind the gas attack, but said there was “no firm information” to indicate Russian forces were involved in the same attack.

In a move that slightly softened the atmosphere, Lavrov said Putin had agreed to restore a U.S.-Russia air safety agreement covering Syria which Moscow suspended in retaliation for the U.S. missile strikes.

The agreement would be reactivated with immediate effect, Viktor Ozerov, the head of the Russian upper house of parliament’s defense committee told the RIA news agency.

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Anna Willard)