Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week as the Trump administration sends mixed messages about the state of relations with Moscow.
The State Department announced Friday that Pompeo would meet with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, next Tuesday.
The leaders are expected to have “frank discussions” on a broad range of multilateral and bilateral issues, including arms control, Ukraine, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran, according to a senior State Department official.
“It is no secret that we have many areas of disagreement with the Russian government,” the senior State Department official told reporters Friday. “The secretary will have a very candid conversation about concerns in our bilateral relationship” including Russia’s breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and “Kremlin-backed attempts to meddle in US and other foreign elections.”
However, the official noted that there are areas where the US is working jointly with Russia, such as on the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism.
It will be Pompeo’s second meeting with Lavrov in as many weeks. The two met during the Arctic Council ministerial in Finland, where the US secretary of state warned of Russian aggression and expansionism in the Arctic region.
Pompeo’s trip, which will also include a stop in Moscow, comes as Russia and the US stand on opposite sides on flashpoints around the world – and as the administration’s responses seem inconsistent. Pompeo repeatedly accused Russia of preventing embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s departure from the country. The State Department has called on Russia to cease its escalations and attacks on civilians in northwest Syria. Pompeo said he told Lavrov in Finland that election meddling is “not appropriate and that we’re going to do everything we can to deter it.”
President Donald Trump, however, continues to take a soft-handed approach with Russia. Trump and Putin spoke for an hour last week and the US President did not warn his Russian counterpart not to meddle in US elections. While the two spoke about Venezuela, Trump directly contradicted his top diplomat, telling reporters after the call that Putin had told him that Russia “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”
The secretary of state’s trip is the first by a high-ranking government official since the release of the Mueller report. Trump and Putin discussed the report, which the US President described again as a “hoax,” during their call and on Saturday Trump emphasized his optimism about the future of the US-Russia relations.
“Tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia, despite what you read and see in the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote. “Look how they have misled you on ‘Russia Collusion.’ The World can be a better and safer place. Nice!”
The senior State Department official deferred on questions about whether the secretary of state’s trip was meant to lay the groundwork for a Trump-Putin summit and echoed the President’s language on a supposed reset.
“It is in our interest to have a better relationship with Russia,” the official said.
Russia also continues to hold US citizens, including Paul Whelan and Michael Calvey, in detention, where they have been denied adequate consular services, according to US officials.
The senior State Department official said they expected that Pompeo would discuss the issue of Americans detained in Russia during his meetings.