Rus­sia ready for more en­gage­ment with U.S., de­spite sanc­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Rus­sia’s top diplo­mat said Sun­day his coun­try was ready for more en­gage­ment with the United States on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other press­ing mat­ters, even as Moscow braced for new sanc­tions from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, after meet­ing with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son for the first since the U.S. im­posed the ad­di­tional penal­ties, said Rus­sian and the U.S. had agreed to re­sume a sus­pended high-level diplo­matic chan­nel and Wash­ing­ton would send its Ukraine en­voy to Moscow for ne­go­ti­a­tions. Lavrov’s up­beat as­sess­ment came amid what the U.S. has called a diplo­matic low point un­seen since the end of the Cold War.

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear whether the U.S. shared Lavrov’s rosy view of the meet­ing. The U.S. of­fered no com­ment about what the diplo­mats dis­cussed, and Tiller­son didn’t re­spond to shouted ques­tions from jour­nal­ists al­lowed in briefly for the start of the hour­plus meet­ing in the Philip­pines.

“We felt that our Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts need to keep the di­a­logue open,’’ Lavrov said. “There’s no al­ter­na­tive to that.’’

Lavrov said Tiller­son had asked him for de­tails about Moscow’s re­cent move to ex­pel Amer­i­can diplo­mats and shut­ter a U.S. recre­ational fa­cil­ity on the out­skirts of Moscow. Lavrov said he ex­plained to Tiller­son how Rus­sia will carry out its re­sponse, but did not publicly dis­close de­tails.

Last month, the Krem­lin said the U.S. must cut its em­bassy and con­sulate staff in Rus­sia by 755 peo­ple, a move that echoed for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ac­tion last year to kick out Rus­sian diplo­mats in pun­ish­ment for Moscow’s med­dling in the 2016 Amer­i­can elec­tion. The Rus­sian an­nounce­ment has caused con­fu­sion be­cause the U.S. is be­lieved to have far fewer than 755 Amer­i­can em­ploy­ees in the coun­try.

Word that U.S. spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kurt Volker plans to visit the Rus­sian cap­i­tal was the lat­est sign that Wash­ing­ton is giv­ing fresh at­ten­tion to re­solv­ing the Ukraine con­flict. The U.S. cut mil­i­tary ties to Rus­sia over Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and ac­cuses the Krem­lin of fo­ment­ing un­rest in eastern Ukraine by arm­ing, sup­port­ing and even di­rect­ing pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists there who are fight­ing the Kyiv gov­ern­ment.

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