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Pompeo cancels Moscow trip, heads to Brussels before talks with Putin in Sochi

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks at the The Claremont Institute's 40th Anniversary Gala in Beverly Hills, California, on May 11, 2019. (State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/Released)
This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has cancelled a planned visit to Moscow on May 13 in order to join talks about Iran with European officials in Brussels.

However, both the Kremlin and the U.S. State Department say Pompeo is expected to go ahead with a planned meeting on May 14 with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Pompeo’s Russia visit — his first as the top U.S. diplomat — comes amid persistent tensions between Washington and Moscow.

The Sochi talks will be the highest-level of formal discussions held between U.S. and Russian officials since July 2018, when President Donald Trump and Putin held a one-on-one meeting in Finland.

The State Department has said that topics for the Putin-Pompeo talks will include arms control, the crisis in Venezuela, and the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran.

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All of those issues are areas where Washington and Moscow are at direct odds with one another.

“The starting point we have to have when we discuss our policy toward Russia…is to acknowledge frankly that Russia has taken a series of aggressive and destabilizing actions on the global stage,” a senior State Department official told reporters on May 10.

‘Modern Reality’

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Pompeo’s trip was “an opportunity to make those points clear to the Russian government and what our expectations are and [to] see how to forge a path forward.”

Arms control will be high on the agenda of the talks, in particular an “arms-control agreement that reflects modern reality,” according to the official.

In February, the United States suspended participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of what it says is Russia’s development and deployment of a missile system that violates the pact.

Moscow, which denies the accusation, later followed suit.

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The INF Treaty banned the United States and Russia from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Moscow and Washington have also been gearing up for talks on how and whether to extend the 2011 New START treaty, the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

It is set to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.

Trump has called the New START treaty concluded in 2010 by his predecessor, Barack Obama, a “bad deal” and “one-sided.”

Trump spoke with Putin by phone last week and said they discussed the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on May 13 that Moscow believes “the resolution of problems hindering the extension of the bilateral New START for another five years should be the primary objective.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also set to meet with Lavrov in Sochi on May 13.