‘Always better to talk than not’: Lavrov & Pompeo
... take on Russia-US problems in Washington, DC
Russian FM Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have briefed the media after talks in Washington, DC, the first such meeting since 2017.
Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Pompeo said the US was seeking a “better relationship” with Russia and that the two countries have been working on improving relations since his visit to Sochi in May. He said lines of communication between Moscow and Washington were open and relations were candid.
Lavrov echoed that, saying the two met regularly and also spoke frequently by phone. "It is useful to talk to each other," he said. "Always better than not talking to each other."
In a nod to the ongoing anti-Russia hysteria in the US, Lavrov said their joint work was, however, "hindered by the wave of suspicions that have overcome Washington." Calling allegations of Russian interference in US internal affairs "baseless," Lavrov said Moscow had "many times" asked the Trump administration to publish all correspondence between Trump and Putin from October 2016 and 2017, but that it had received "no response."
Russia is hoping the current anti-Russia feeling dissipates like the McCarthyism of the 1950s, Lavrov added.
Pompeo said that cooperation on anti-terrorism is one of the main focuses of the relationship, particularly in relation to Syria.
“We want to make sure Syria never again becomes a safe haven for ISIS or other terrorist groups,” he said.
On Ukraine, Pompeo said the resolution of conflict in the eastern regions of the country begins “with adherence to the Minsk agreements.”
The two diplomats also discussed the political situation in Venezuela. Pompeo asked Lavrov to support "interim president" Juan Guaido – but Lavrov said that Moscow is promoting the idea that it should be only Venezuelans who define their own future.
Lavrov also expressed Moscow's displeasure at the US decision to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. The 1987 arms control accord prohibited either side from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.
The pair also discussed North Korea and Iran, with Lavrov saying that everything must be done to save the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, which the Trump administration tore up last year.
Lavrov said that despite US sanctions on Russia, which "don't benefit anyone," mutual trade has grown from $20 billion to $27 billion, meaning more profit and jobs for everyone.
While there are "difficulties and differences," there is still "great potential" for cooperation between the two countries, and he invited Pompeo to visit Russia again, when possible.
Pompeo traveled to Russia in May and met Lavrov, and the two met again the following month, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
The last time Lavrov visited Washington for a ministerial-level meeting – when Pompeo was still the head of the CIA – US-Russia ties were already getting chilly amid the ‘Russiagate’ drama. Two-and-a-half years later, there is a pile-up of what seems like never-ending sanctions and (un)diplomatic moves – and that’s aside from the crumbling arms control agreements and tense standoffs in Syria and Ukraine, which have to be discussed and coordinated.
The Lavrov-Pompeo talks came a day after the landmark presidential-level meeting of the Normandy Four group (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine) in Paris, conceived back in 2014 to try and stop the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Those were seen as an important step to reinvigorate the intra-Ukrainian peace process that has largely stalled over the past two years. Notably, the talks were the first time Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky met.
It would seem likely that Moscow used the chance on Tuesday to convey its position to the US, another key player in Ukraine but one absent from the Paris talks.