Rus­sia open to talks with U.S.

For­eign min­is­ter says North Korea, Syria, Ukraine on ta­ble

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JOSH LEDERMAN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Nataliya Vasi­lyeva of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

MANILA, Philip­pines — 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 time since the U.S. im­posed the ad­di­tional penal­ties, said Rus­sia 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 who were al­lowed in briefly for the start of the hour-plus 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 Kiev gov­ern­ment.

In re­cent days, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 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.

In their meet­ing, Lavrov said, Tiller­son agreed to con­tinue a di­a­logue be­tween U.S. Un­der­sec­re­tary of State Thomas Shan­non and Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Ryabkov. That chan­nel was cre­ated to ad­dress what the U.S. calls “ir­ri­tants” pre­vent­ing the two coun­tries from pur­su­ing bet­ter ties. Rus­sia had sus­pended the talks after the U.S. 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 faceto-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 U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion is mov­ing ahead into Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and po­ten­tial Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion. Trump de­nies any col­lu­sion and has re­peat­edly ques­tioned U.S. in­tel­li­gence about Moscow’s in­volve­ment.

At the same time, Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued there’s good rea­son for the U.S. to seek a more pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship. Tiller­son has cited mod­est signs of progress in Syria, where the U.S. and Rus­sia re­cently bro­kered a cease-fire in the wartorn coun­try’s southwest, as a sign there’s fer­tile ground for co­op­er­a­tion.

The Syr­ian cease-fire re­flected a re­turn of U.S.-Rus­sia co­op­er­a­tion to lower vi­o­lence there. The U.S. had looked war­ily at a se­ries of safe zones in Syria that Rus­sia had ne­go­ti­ated along with Tur­key and Iran.

Lavrov cited up­com­ing talks in­volv­ing Rus­sia, Iran and Tur­key about how to en­sure the truce in the last safe zone to be es­tab­lished, around the north­west­ern city of Idlib. He pre­dicted “it will be dif­fi­cult” to ham­mer out the de­tails but that com­pro­mise can be reached if all par­ties — in­clud­ing the U.S. — use their in­flu­ence in Syria to per­suade armed groups there to com­ply.

AP/NOEL CELIS

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov ad­dresses an As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions fo­rum in Pasay City, Philip­pines, south­east of Manila, on Sun­day.

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