U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faces his most significant test date this week as he travels for a meeting with Russian officials amid rising political tensions in Asia and the Middle East.
Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil with no previous political experience, will need to assuage concerns in Moscow that the United States is preparing military strikes in North Korea while at the same time persuading colleagues of Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw support for Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad.
"It is clear to us the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," Tillerson told reporters in Lucca, Italy during meeting of G-7 Foreign Ministers Tuesday. "We hope that the Russian government concludes that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar Al-Assad."
Putin has said he will not meet face-to-face will Tillerson, despite a long-standing relationship between the two men, directing instead his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to conduct the discussions, indicating the level to which relations between the two countries has deteriorated over the past weeks.
The timing of his visit, however, illustrates not only the complexity of the task but also the spread of geopolitical tensions around the globe. North Korea will celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of its former leader, Kim Il Sung, with a military parade in Pyongyang Saturday, an event that typically coincides with the testing of nuclear missiles by the government.
U.S. Navy warships are en route to the western Pacific as part of a broader attempt to diffusive tensions in the region's following the firing of various rockets last year and a vow to develop atomic weapons that are capable of reaching the United States.
Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement earlier this week that noted it was "really worried about what Washington has in mind for North Korea after it hinted at the possibility of a unilateral military scenario. It's important to understand how that would tally with collective obligations on de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula, something that is underpinned in U.N. Security Council resolutions."
Russia has also criticised the U.S.'s decision to launch military strikes on an Syria airbase last week in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian President.
Tillerson will also need to manage frayed relations among his European allies after a push by Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, to impose new sanctions on Russia as a result of its support for Assad was rejected by G-7 Foreign Ministers in Lucca.
North Korea, for its part, said Tuesday that is is "keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the U.S. mainland," according to a statement published by sate newspaper Rodong Sinmun.