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US considered declaring Russia a state sponsor of terror but backed off, report says

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov address reporters before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 10, 2017. (U.S. State Department)
May 23, 2018

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered State Department officials to make a case for designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, but the State Department was later told to back off that proposal, ProPublica first reported.

According to State Department officials familiar with the case, Tillerson made the order after a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a lethal nerve agent in the U.K. Russia was accused of being responsible for the poisoning.

Within two days of making the order, the State Department officials were told to drop the initiative.

“There are a lot of issues that we have to work on together with Russia,” a U.S. official told ProPublica. “Designating them would interfere with our ability to do that.”

In March, more than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled by more than 20 countries for Russia’s role in the March 4 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.

Russia denied involvement in the attack and blamed the U.S. for creating a blackmail campaign against Russia.

“Russia is clearly a bad actor on the world stage,” said David McKean, a former director of policy planning at the State Department. “But terrorism is an area where we have to keep trying to talk to them. They can either play a negative role or not play a negative role — or occasionally play a positive role.”

The U.S. is still concerned with Russian activity, especially after the country’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, its actions in the Middle East and its support of the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has still been a contributor toward ousting ISIS militants from the region.