Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met on the shores of the Black Sea and said they are committed to improving ties between their nations.
It won’t be easy. Putin’s 90-minute meeting with Pompeo in the resort city of Sochi represented an initial step towards addressing a wide range of disputes between the two nations and a search for common ground.
“My impression is that the president is set to restore Russian-American relations, contacts, to jointly resolve issues that are of mutual interest to us,” Putin said of President
Donald Trump before sitting down for talks.
“For our part, we have repeatedly said that we would also like to restore full-format relations.”
Yet the two men acknowledged that Moscow and Washington continue to fundamentally disagree on key issues, such as how to lower tensions in hot spots including Ukraine, Venezuela and Iran, and the consequences of Russian interference in US elections.
A wide range of US sanctions remain in place against the Russian economy and, with bipartisan congressional support, are unlikely to be lifted soon.
But separately, Putin and Pompeo signalled that there are overlapping areas of interest, such as addressing North Korea’s nuclear threat and finding a way forward in places such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Pompeo described the talks as “very productive.”
“There’s places we disagree,” Pompeo said. “There’s places I think there are truly overlapping interests that we can build on, and most importantly, President Trump very much wants to do that.”
Before boarding his plane back to Washington, he also issued a warning on the prospect of Russian meddling in the 2020 presidential election.
“We’ll continue to do the things we need to do to protect our elections in 2020 and I don’t think you could be mistaken about America finding that Russian interference is unacceptable in the 2020 election,’’ Pompeo said.
“I said it as clearly as I could.” The meeting did advance talks on arranging a possible meeting between Trump and Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Japan next month, after the American president said that he would see the Kremlin leader.
Putin’s top foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said “we are ready to have any meetings, contacts, especially at the highest level. They are very important.”
Touching on one of the biggest foreign policy issues facing the Trump administration, Pompeo said he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the US “fundamentally doesn’t want war with Iran,” while Lavrov warned of the risk of being pulled into a spiral of crisis over the Islamic Republic.
Lavrov also said the end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 US election was an opportunity to reset relations and he called accusations of election interference “complete fiction.”