US and Russia voice hope for improved relations
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo met in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russia and the United States have voiced hope that strained relations could begin to improve.
With tensions running high over Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed vindication from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election and said he thought it was time to move on.
Meanwhile, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo conveyed President Donald Trump’s interest in restoring better ties.
In the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released last month, Mr Putin told Mr Pompeo he hoped relations with the US would now improve.
Still, his claim of vindication covered only allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Mr Putin did not address Mr Mueller’s conclusion that Russia actively interfered in the election.
“However exotic the work of special counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he has had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there were no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we said was absolutely fake,” Mr Putin said as he opened the meeting with Mr Pompeo in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“As we said before there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there. Still, that was one of the reasons for the certain break in our inter-state ties,” he said. “I’m hoping today that the situation is changing.”
Mr Pompeo did not specifically mention election meddling in his brief reply to Mr Putin, although he did say the Trump administration would “protect our nation’s interest”. Earlier, though, Mr Pompeo made clear that any repeat of the 2016 meddling would not be tolerated.
“Interference in American elections is unacceptable,” Mr Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
“If Russia were to engage in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it is. We have encouraged them not to. We wouldn’t tolerate that. Our elections are important and sacred and they must be free and fair.”
After meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Pompeo told reporters: “So it’s not about moving on. It’s about trying to find solutions, compromises, places where there are overlapping interests you can make progress unlocking some of the most difficult problems that are facing us.”
Mr Putin told Mr Pompeo his recent telephone conversation with Mr Trump raised hopes for an improvement in relations.
“As you know, not long ago, a few days ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the president of the United States by telephone,” he said.
“For me, it created the impression that the president intends to restore Russian-American connections and contacts to resolve joint issues that present mutual interests.”
Mr Pompeo spoke of “truly overlapping interests” that the two countries “can build on, and most importantly, President Trump very much wants to do that”.
He cited co-operation in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism more broadly, but also a shared goal of getting North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons. But he also told Mr Putin that “just as you will, we’ll protect our nation’s interest”.