SOCHI, Russia — On his first trip to Russia as U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he warned his Russian counterpart against any “unacceptable” Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
At a news conference following three hours of meetings, Pompeo said he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added than any such action by the Russians in the 2020 elections “would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been.”
Both diplomats said the meeting in the resort city of Sochi covered an array of issues that have heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington. These included Iran, Syria and Venezuela, where the United States supports opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and Russia backs President Nicolas Maduro.
Lavrov defended Russia’s position and said the threats Maduro’s government is receiving from U.S. administration officials coupled with Guaido’s seeming support for a foreign military intervention, “bear no relation to democracy.”
Pompeo and Lavrov, who appeared at ease with other, were to brief President Vladimir Putin on the meeting in the evening.
Lavrov said both countries are overdue to dispel “suspicions and prejudices” and to “start building a new constructive framework” of how Russia and the U.S see each other.
Pompeo said in televised remarks at the meeting on Tuesday that he came to Russia because President Donald Trump was “committed to improve this relationship” despite differences between the United States and Russia Syria, Iran, the crisis in Venezuela and other matters.
Pompeo landed in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for his first visit to Russia at a time relations between the two countries are at a post-Cold War low.
Speaking at the start of his meeting with Pompeo, Lavrov said on Tuesday that the strained ties between Russia and the U.S. “not only hinder our security but also cause worry to the entire international community.” He said Moscow is willing to work with Washington on several issues, including the fight against terrorism and regional conflicts.
Lavrov said that “it’s time to start building a new constructive framework” of how Russia and the U.S. see each other.
Pompeo told Lavrov that he hopes that the U.S. and Russia can mend their relations and find areas of mutual cooperation.
He said that each country wants to protect its interests but that there are areas for mutually beneficial cooperation, including the fight against terrorism. Pompeo said that an improved relationship, damaged by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and U.S. sanctions against Russia, “will be good not only for our two countries but for the whole world as well.”
Pompeo is expected to meet President Vladimir Putin after his talks with Lavrov.
My meetings in #Russia will highlight a number of important topics. On some issues we may agree, on others we may disagree, but when it’s in our national interests, it is our responsibility to find a way forward.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 14, 2019
Pompeo said in a tweet before setting off for Russia that Moscow and Washington agree on some issues and disagree on others but added that it is “our responsibility to find a way forward.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Tuesday that he expects the meeting to focus on arms control, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea’s nuclear program.
Before hosting Pompeo, Putin is expected to visit a military facility in the south that manufactures some of Russia’s most modern fighter jets. Asked whether it was deliberately timed to coincide with Pompeo’s visit, Peskov argued this was a routine visit and not a “message” to anyone.
On Monday, Putin toured another military aviation factory and chaired a meeting on the military industrial complex.