AT NATO, U.S. sig­nals no shift on Rus­sia.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - LOLITA C. BALDOR AND MATTHEW LEE In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Vladimir Isachenkov of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

BRUS­SELS — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled Thurs­day that there will be no change soon in U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions, putting the onus on Moscow to prove it­self if it wants closer co­op­er­a­tion with Wash­ing­ton. Rus­sia’s sup­port for Ukrainian sep­a­ratists was un­der­scored as a test case of its will­ing­ness to change be­hav­ior.

At a NATO meet­ing in Brus­sels, U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis made clear the United States isn’t ready to col­lab­o­rate mil­i­tar­ily with its for­mer Cold War foe against the Is­lamic State or other threats, a long-stand­ing goal of the Krem­lin’s, which Trump says he wants, too. After meet­ing with Rus­sia’s top diplo­mat in Ger­many, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Rus­sia first must help stop vi­o­lence in Ukraine.

The com­ments ap­peared to put the brakes on a rapid trans­for­ma­tion in U.S.-Rus­sia ties, which have been badly strained by fight­ing in Ukraine and Syria as well as by U.S. ac­cu­sa­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Euro­pean coun­tries close to Rus­sia’s bor­der have been espe­cially alarmed by the prospects of U.S.-Rus­sia rap­proche­ment, given Trump’s ref­er­ences to NATO as “ob­so­lete” and his re­peated praise for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“Rus­sia is go­ing to have to prove it­self first,” Mat­tis said. Na­tions will seek “a way for­ward where Rus­sia, living up to its com­mit­ments, will re­turn to a part­ner­ship of sorts here with NATO,” he said.

But he made clear that a sig­nif­i­cant at­ti­tude change is re­quired by lead­ers in Moscow, declar­ing that there is “very lit­tle doubt that they have ei­ther in­ter­fered or they have at­tempted to in­ter­fere in a num­ber of elec­tions in the democ­ra­cies.”

While Mat­tis ad­dressed re­porters, Tiller­son met with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov in the for­mer West Ger­many cap­i­tal of Bonn, and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair­man, sat down with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, Gen. Valery Gerasi­mov, in the for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of Azer­bai­jan. The meet­ings were the first be­tween the two coun­tries’ top diplo­mats and mil­i­tary men since Trump was sworn in.

Tiller­son, a for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO with long ex­pe­ri­ence in Rus­sia, hav­ing even been awarded a friend­ship medal by Putin, em­pha­sized that Rus­sia must abide by a 2015 deal aimed at end­ing fight­ing be­tween Ukrainian forces and Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratists. “As we search for new com­mon ground, we ex­pect Rus­sia to honor its com­mit­ments,” he said.

Lavrov said in re­marks broad­cast live by Rus­sian tele­vi­sion that dur­ing the meet­ing that the par­ties con­firmed a shared in­ter­est in pool­ing ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism. He cred­ited Tiller­son for hav­ing “voiced readi­ness to sup­port” a Rus­sian-led process to end Syria’s civil war.

“Nat­u­rally we couldn’t solve all the prob­lems,” Lavrov said. “But we have a shared un­der­stand­ing that on is­sues where our in­ter­ests co­in­cide, and there quite a few of them, we should move for­ward.”

He said U.S. sanc­tions on Rus­sia weren’t ad­dressed. The mat­ter is ex­tremely sen­si­tive given Trump’s fir­ing early this week of his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, over his dis­cus­sions about sanc­tions with a Rus­sian am­bas­sador be­fore Trump took of­fice.

Sep­a­rately, Rus­sia’s De­fense Min­istry said Dun­ford and Gerasi­mov “ex­changed opin­ions about the cur­rent state of the Rus­sian-U.S. re­la­tions” and as­sess­ments about other parts of the world. “They have de­ter­mined the ar­eas of joint work to im­prove se­cu­rity of mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties, re­duce ten­sions and risk of in­ci­dents.” The United States later is­sued an al­most iden­ti­cal state­ment.

AP/BREN­DAN SMI­ALOWSKI

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel (left) and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son talk Thurs­day after a G-20 din­ner at the Villa Ham­mer­schmidt in Bonn, Ger­many.

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