US secretary of state met Russian president and foreign minister to discuss Iran, Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to “fully restore” relations with the United States and believes that his US counterpart Donald Trump wants to do the same.
Putin on Tuesday told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he came to that conclusion after a phone call with Trump a few days ago.
The Russian president, speaking ahead of a meeting with Pompeo, also said that his country had not interfered in US elections.
At a joint news conference following the meeting, Pompeo urged Russia to end support for President Nicolas Maduro, but his call was flatly rejected by Moscow.
“The time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go, he has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people, and we hope that Russian support for Maduro will end,” Pompeo said. The US along with about 50 other countries, backs the opposition movement led by Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January.
For his part, Lavrov said Maduro’s future should be decided by the Venezuelan people and called US pressure on him undemocratic.
‘Many differences’ on Iran
Speaking on Iran, Russia’s ally, Lavrov said that Russia and the US “have many differences” and criticized the US decision to unilaterally withdraw from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement meant to rein in the country’s nuclear programme.
Pompeo said that the US will respond appropriately to any Iranian attacks on US interests, in an apparent reference to the Iranian military’s threat to shut the strategic strait of Hormuz in the Gulf. The US secretary, however, added that his country did not “seek war with Iran”.
The US recently tightened restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme by revoking key sanctions waivers, a move staunchly opposed by Moscow, over a year after Washington withdrew from a landmark deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme. It also imposed new sanctions on the country’s metal sector.
On the Ukrainian crisis, an issue the sides are also loggerheads, the Pompeo said the US would not recognize Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and would keep in place economic sanctions imposed on Russia over that move.
|Mike Pompeo met Sergey Lavrov in Sochi to discuss a range of issues including Iran, Venezuela and Ukraine [Pavel Golovkin, Pool/AP]|
Pompeo said he asked Moscow to free a group of Ukrainian sailors, seized by Russia last November, and to work with Ukraine‘s new president to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Lavrov said that the Kremlin would welcome an official request by Washington for a meeting between the US and Russian presidents at a G20 summit scheduled for June.
US warning on 2020 polls
Pompeo also said he had made it clear to Lavrov that there could be no repeat of election interference of the kind Washington accuses Moscow of undertaking in the 2016 United States presidential election.
If Russia interferes in the 2020 presidential election, “it would put our relationship in an even worse place,” Pompeo said.
Ties between the two countries have been damaged by allegations that Russia tried to influence the results of the election in favour of Trump, a claim denied by Moscow.
“It’s clear that such insinuations are absolute fiction,” Lavrov said at the joint press conference.
Pompeo’s visit represents the first high-level contact between Moscow and Washington since US Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted a report examining the nature of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
His inquiry had cast a pall over US-Russian relations, and Russian officials had expressed hope that Washington would have more scope to build friendlier relations with Moscow once it was out of the way.
Before his meeting with Pompeo, Putin praised the report.
“Despite the exotic nature of Mr Mueller’s commission, on the whole he conducted quite an objective investigation and confirmed the absence of any collusion between the US administration and Russia.”
The Mueller report called Russia’s efforts to influence the election “the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations”.