"Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent," Tillerson said in an off-camera briefing with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, referring to Moscow's apparent inability to prevent the Syrian government from using chemical weapons earlier this week despite a 2013 agreement to remove them from the country.
The U.S. military also avoided striking a suspected sarin gas storage facility at the targeted airport because it feared hitting the facility would have caused the deadly gas to be dispersed.
Tillerson is set to travel to Moscow next week for meetings with Russian officials, a trip which is sure to take on added urgency in light of the U.S. military action.
McMaster provided additional details on the timeline of the president’s decision. Not long after the chemical weapons attack on Tuesday, it became clear that it was carried out by Syrian government aircraft and that it involved sarin gas, McMaster said.
The airstrike was entirely a U.S. operation. No military personnel from any other nation took part, but Tillerson said there were consultations with U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East.
"The response from our allies in Europe as well as in the region in the Middle East has been overwhelmingly supportive," Tillerson said.
McMaster made it clear that the military action was a limited attack that did not significantly degrade the capabilities of the Syrian military. Syria still maintains the ability to carry out further sarin gas attacks just like it did on Tuesday.
The secretary of state insisted, however, that the attack sent a message.
"I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and government actors cross the line," Tillerson said. "It's clear that President Trump made that statement to the world tonight."