This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against any “attempts to interfere” in U.S. elections and “urged Moscow to resolve the conflict with Ukraine,” the White House said of their meeting in Washington.
Trump on December 10 emphasized supporting “effective global arms control” that includes not only Russia, but also China, the White House said.
Trump asked Russia for support on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to ensure the denuclearization of North Korea.
Lavrov’s visit came a day after four-way talks were held in Paris between Russia, France, Germany, and Ukraine to find a lasting peace in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Lavrov, both of whom showed few signs of progress on key issues hampering U.S.-Russia relations. However, Pompeo expressed hope that would change.
Pompeo and Lavrov discussed a wide range of international and bilateral issues including the denuclearization of North Korea, the change in leadership in Venezuela, peace in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the future of nuclear-weapons treaties.
U.S.-Russia relations have hit lows not seen since the Cold War following Russia’s forcible annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, its interference in U.S. elections, disinformation campaigns, and sponsorship of killings abroad.
Russia denies meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and of any involvement in killings abroad, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.
Lavrov again stated that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections and said his country was ready to publish “secret-channel” communications between Moscow and Washington from October 2016 to November 2017 that he claimed would support that view.
Pompeo rejected the idea, saying there was enough evidence to support Washington’s conclusion of interference. “We’ll publish all the documents we think appropriate. We think we’ve shared plenty of facts to show what happened in the 2016 election with our Russian counterparts. We don’t think there’s any mistake about what really transpired there,” he said.
However, Pompeo expressed hope that the two countries would get through their problems. “We should have a better relationship — the United States and Russia — than we have had in the last few years and we have been working on that,” he said during a press conference following his meeting with Lavrov.
Pompeo said that the United States and Russia continued to cooperate in the fights against terrorism and drug trafficking despite the tensions in relations and are taking steps to expand economic ties.
“We hope there is some significant progress that we can announce here in just the next short period of time about how we would move our economic relationship forward,” Pompeo said, without giving details.
U.S.-Russia bilateral trade has risen about one-third — from $20 billion during the administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to $27 billion this year, Lavrov said, without explaining what the growth was driven by.
However, the two sides expressed more disagreement than unity.
Pompeo called on Russia to end its support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and allow elections to take place in the South American country. Russia has been propping up Maduro’s government amid widespread protests over poor economic conditions.
Pompeo also reiterated the U.S. position that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and that Russia must fulfill its obligations to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
The U.S. secretary of state said he spent a “fair amount of time” talking about Ukraine with Lavrov, who attended peace talks between Putin and Zelenskiy in Paris the previous day.
Lavrov compared the current atmosphere in Washington toward Russia to the 1950s, a period of hysteria about communist infiltration of the U.S. government.
The Russian foreign minister complained it was hard to make progress in the bilateral relationship under such conditions. He reiterated that the Kremlin was ready to sign an extension of New START, the last remaining nuclear agreement between the two countries.
Pompeo said he wanted to expand the agreement, which expires in February 2021, to include China, as well as more types of nuclear weapons.
Both Pompeo and Lavrov expressed concern about the arrests of their citizens in each other’s country, another element leading to heated tensions.
Pompeo called on Russia to release Paul Whelan, an American arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on charges of spying. Whelan denies the charges and said he is being abused by guards in prison.