US, Russia Agree to Talk Again, Meet in Sochi

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to work to normalize strained relations and restore bilateral channels of communication following talks Tuesday at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Although Pompeo and Lavrov discussed a wide range of bilateral and international problems, including the situations in Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, Syria and Venezuela, there were no major breakthroughs on any of those issues.

It is Pompeo’s first visit to Russia as secretary of state. After his meeting with Lavrov the American diplomat met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the joint news conference following the talks with Lavrov, Pompeo said Washington is willing to rebuild its relationship with Moscow, but it expects its Russian counterparts to act on it with all seriousness.

“President Trump’s made it clear that his expectation is that we have an improved relationship between our countries. This will benefit each of our people. And I think that our talks here today were a good step in this direction,” Pompeo said.

Warning for Moscow

The top U.S. diplomat also issued a few stern warnings to Moscow saying it should refrain from interfering in the 2020 U.S election, free captured Ukrainian sailors and try to make peace with Kyiv. He also said the two sides disagree on Venezuela and urged Russia to end its support for President Nicolas Maduro. Washington and 50 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guiado as Venezuela’s interim leader.

Tuesday’s Sochi meeting came after Pompeo shared intelligence and details with European allies about what the United States calls Iran’s recent “escalating threat,” blaming Tehran for failing to choose talks over threats.

“And we want to make sure [Europeans] understood the risks as we saw them, and I shared that with them in some detail. As for our policy, it’s been consistent now for the entire Trump administration and the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), now just over a year ago, made clear what our objectives are,” Pompeo said of his stopover in Brussels en route to Sochi.

Pompeo called on the Iranian regime to “behave like a normal country” and accused its leadership of conducting “assassination campaigns throughout Europe” and “supporting the Hezbollah.”

Before the meeting, State Department Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters Iran “plays a destabilizing role in Syria” and that Iran using Syria “as a missile platform to advance its foreign policy objectives” goes against Russian goals of bringing stability to the Syria.

Russian forces have been aiding the Syrian military since 2015, while Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad, giving support and training to Shi’ite militias.

Pompeo’s trip comes a few weeks ahead of a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, with both Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump expected to attend. Trump said on Monday that he will meet with Putin on the sidelines of G-20 summit.

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