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Pompeo, Lavrov Vow In Sochi Talks To Improve U.S.-Russia Ties

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks in the Black Sea city of Sochi on May 14.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that President Donald Trump is "committed" to improving relations with Russia.

Pompeo made the remark at the start of talks with Lavrov in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi on May 14 ahead of a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin later in the day -- the highest-level formal discussions between U.S. and Russian officials since July 2018 when Trump and Putin met in Finland.

At the start of his meeting with Lavrov, Pompeo said Russia and the United States may not agree on everything, but there was room for cooperation -- particularly on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation.

Lavrov expressed hope that the sides "will be able to hammer out specific proposals aimed at steering Russian-American relations out of the current sad state."

Lavrov said it was "time to start building a new, more responsible and constructive model of mutual perception of each other," adding: "We are ready for this."

Earlier in the day, Pompeo tweeted that his talks with Putin and Lavrov "will highlight a number of important topics."

"On some issues we may agree, on others we may disagree, but when it’s in our national interests, it is our responsibility to find a way forward," Pompeo's tweet said.

Putin was expected to receive Pompeo after the Russian president tours a military flight test center in southern Russia and inspects 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 would 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 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