Rus­sia: Trump’s Ukraine en­voy to visit Moscow

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is send­ing its en­voy for Ukraine ne­go­ti­a­tions to Moscow in a bid to make progress on the diplo­matic cri­sis, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov said yes­ter­day. After his first meet­ing with US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son since new Amer­i­can sanc­tions, Lavrov emerged with an up­beat as­sess­ment about the po­ten­tial for find­ing com­mon ground on Ukraine, Syria and other is­sues. Lavrov said he and Tiller­son had agreed to pre­serve a high-level diplo­matic chan­nel that Rus­sia had sus­pended in protest of an ear­lier tight­en­ing of U.S. sanc­tions.

“We felt that our Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts need to keep the di­a­logue open,” Lavrov said. “There’s no al­ter­na­tive to that.” There was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion to the meet­ing from the US State Depart­ment. Tiller­son did not com­ment publicly or re­spond to shouted ques­tions from jour­nal­ists al­lowed in briefly for the start of the hour-plus meet­ing in the Philip­pines.

Giv­ing out de­tails

Lavrov said Tiller­son had asked him for de­tails about Moscow’s re­cent ac­tion to re­tal­i­ate against US sanc­tions by ex­pelling Amer­i­can diplo­mats and shut­ter­ing a US recre­ational fa­cil­ity on the out­skirts of Moscow. The Rus­sian diplo­mat said he ex­plained to Tiller­son how Rus­sia will carry out its re­sponse, but Lavrov isn’t giv­ing out de­tails.

Last month, the Krem­lin said the US 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 US is be­lieved to have far fewer than 755 Amer­i­can em­ploy­ees in the coun­try.

Word that US 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 Kiev gov­ern­ment. In re­cent days, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been con­sid­er­ing pro­vid­ing lethal weaponry to Ukraine to help de­fend it­self against Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. Lavrov didn’t say when Volker, a for­mer NATO am­bas­sador, would go to Moscow. Last month, Volker paid his first visit as spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive to em­bat­tled eastern Ukraine.

In their meet­ing, Lavrov said, Tiller­son agreed to con­tinue a di­a­logue be­tween US Un­der­sec­re­tary of State Thomas Shan­non and Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Ryabkov. That chan­nel was cre­ated to ad­dress what the US calls “ir­ri­tants” pre­vent­ing the two coun­tries from pur­su­ing bet­ter ties. Rus­sia had sus­pended the talks after the US tight­ened ex­ist­ing sanc­tions on Rus­sia re­lated to its ac­tions in Ukraine.

Lavrov and Tiller­son met on the side­lines of an Asian re­gional gath­er­ing in the Philip­pines. It was their first face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion since Congress passed new leg­is­la­tion in July that makes it harder for Trump to ever ease penal­ties on Rus­sia. Trump signed the bill last week, but called it “se­ri­ously flawed.”

The White House said Trump’s op­po­si­tion stemmed from the bill’s fail­ure to grant the pres­i­dent suf­fi­cient flex­i­bil­ity on when to lift sanc­tions. Trump’s crit­ics saw his ob­jec­tions as one more sign that he is too ea­ger to pur­sue closer ties to Rus­sia, or to pro­tect the for­mer Cold War foe from penal­ties de­signed to pun­ish Moscow for its ac­tions in Ukraine, elec­tion med­dling and other trou­ble­some be­hav­ior.

A US Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion is mov­ing ahead into Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and po­ten­tial Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion. Trump de­nies any col­lu­sion and has re­peat­edly ques­tioned US in­tel­li­gence about Moscow’s in­volve­ment. At the same time, Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued there’s good rea­son for the US to seek a more pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship. Tiller­son has cited mod­est signs of progress in Syria, where the US and Rus­sia re­cently bro­kered a cease-fire in the war-torn coun­try’s southwest, as a sign there’s fer­tile ground for co­op­er­a­tion.

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