Sun, 21 Jul 2019

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

The visit, Pompeo's first to Russia as U.S. Secretary of State, comes amid persistent tensions between Washington and Moscow.

His talks with Putin will be the highest-level formal discussions between U.S. and Russian officials since July 2018, when President Donald Trump and Putin met in Finland.

In a tweet earlier in the day, Pompeo said that his talks with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov 'will highlight a number of important topics,' adding: 'On some issues we may agree, on others we may disagree, but when its in our national interests, it is our responsibility to find a way forward.'

The secretary of state was expected to sit down for talks with Lavrov before being received by Putin, who was scheduled to tour a military flight test center in southern Russia and inspect a new 'hypersonic' missile dubbed Kinzhal (Dagger).

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected allegations that the apparent show of force was designed to send a message to the United States, saying: 'There's no need to come up with any conspiracy theories here.'

The State Department has said that the agenda of Pompeo's meetings in Sochi will include arms control, the crisis in Venezuela, and the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran.

'Modern Reality'

All of those issues are areas where the United States and Russia are at direct odds with one another.

'The starting point we have to have when we discuss our policy toward Russia...is to acknowledge frankly that Russia has taken a series of aggressive and destabilizing actions on the global stage,' a senior State Department official told reporters on May 10.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Pompeo's trip was 'an opportunity to make those points clear to the Russian government and what our expectations are and [to] see how to forge a path forward.'

Arms control will be high on the agenda of the talks, in particular an 'arms-control agreement that reflects modern reality,' according to the official.

In February, the United States suspended participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of what it says is Russia's development and deployment of a missile system that violates the pact.

Moscow, which denies the accusation, later followed suit.

'One-Sided' Deal

The INF Treaty banned the United States and Russia from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Moscow and Washington have also been gearing up for talks on how and whether to extend the New START treaty, the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

It is set to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.

Trump has called the New START treaty concluded in 2010 by his predecessor, Barack Obama, a 'bad deal' and 'one-sided.'

Trump spoke with Putin by phone last week and said they discussed the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who met with Lavrov in Sochi on May 13, said his country wasn't interested in negotiating a nuclear arms control treaty with the United States and Russia.

Wang told reporters after the meeting that China 'has no interest' in being part of such a treaty.

He said China keeps its arsenal of nuclear weapons at 'the minimal level to ensure the defense policies.'

'Talks Instead Of Threats'

Pompeo had originally been due to travel to Moscow on May 13 but cancelled that visit to instead discuss Iran with EU and NATO officials in Brussels.

Pompeo shared information on 'escalating' threats from Tehran, according to Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran.

'The secretary wanted to share some details behind what we have been saying publicly,' Hook said. 'We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats.'

Hook said Pompeo, while in Brussels, also discussed reported attacks on several oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

Hook declined to comment on whether he believed there was the possibility of an Iranian role.

The U.A.E. said on May 12 that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate.

Saudi Arabia said on May 13 that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

Sign up for Moscow News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!