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Pompeo heading to Moscow, Sochi to raise ‘aggressive’ Russian actions

U.S. Secretary of State MIchael R. Pompeo speaks at a press conference at King Khalid International Airport Royal Terminal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 14, 2019. (U.S. State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Russia — his first visit as the top U.S. diplomat — for talks with President Vladimir Putin amid persistent tensions between the two countries.

The talks will be the highest-level 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 Pompeo is scheduled to arrive on May 13 in Moscow where he will meet with embassy officials and members of the U.S. business community, which has been rattled by the arrest in recent months of two Americans, including prominent investor Michael Calvey.

The secretary of state is then set to travel to Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 14 to hold talks with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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“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.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington have been gearing up for talks on how and whether to extend the 2011 New START treaty, a broader arms agreement that could lapse as early as 2021.

The U.S. official said other topics for the Putin-Pompeo talks will include the crisis in Venezuela, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran, which has faced increasing pressure from the United States — all areas where Washington and Moscow are at direct odds with one another.

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