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Tillerson, Lavrov End Vienna Talks With No Apparent Breakthroughs


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet on the sidelines of an annual session of the OSCE Council of Foreign Ministers in Vienna on December 7.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have ended their face-to-face talks in Vienna without saying what progress, if any, may have been made on the issues that have been heightening tensions between the two countries.

Asked by reporters after the December 7 talks held on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) what commitments he may have received from the Russian minister, Tillerson said: "I'm not going to tell you specifically what we get. We get progress, that's what we get."

"We get dialogue, we get cooperation, we don't have it solved. You don't solve it in one meeting," he added.

The meeting came as ties between the United States and Russia continue to be severely strained over issues including Moscow's alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election last year, its military intervention in Ukraine, and its role in the Syrian civil war.

The United States and European Union are pushing Moscow to allow a robust United Nations peacekeeping force to be deployed to eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatist militia are fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since it started in April 2014.

Lavrov did not make any comment after the meeting, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said the talks focused on the diplomatic row between the two countries and the crises in Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea.

Lavrov told the U.S. secretary of state that U.S. "pressure" on Russian media and diplomats in the United States was "unacceptable," the statement said.

The Russian foreign minister also told Tillerson that U.S. military exercises and what he called "aggressive rhetoric" were causing an "escalation of tension" on the Korean Peninsula, the ministry said.

Conflict In Ukraine

The Russian and U.S. officials were expected to discuss their differences over a proposal to send armed United Nations peacekeepers into eastern Ukraine in order to bolster the unarmed OSCE monitors who are already deployed there.

Moscow and Washington disagree over the mandate that the proposed UN force would have.

The Kremlin says the UN mission should have the powers to protect OSCE monitors in eastern Ukraine.

But Western powers fear President Vladimir Putin wants to limit the force’s mandate in a way that any cease-fire would merely consolidate the gains of Russia-backed separatists.

Tillerson has said Washington wants the proposed UN force to have additional peacekeeping powers. That could include the authority to disarm Russia-backed separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.

In his speech at the OSCE foreign ministers meeting, Tillerson said on December 7 that the United States "will never accept Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea."

He said U.S. sanctions that were imposed after Moscow's illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 "will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine."

"In eastern Ukraine, we join our European partners in maintaining sanctions until Russia withdraws its forces from [separatist-held parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions] and meets its Minsk commitments," Tillerson added.

Several cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict -- have failed to hold.

Referring to cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, Tillerson said, "We should be clear about the source of this violence."

"Russia is arming, leading, training, and fighting alongside antigovernment forces. We call on Russia and its proxies to end its harassment, intimidation, and its attacks on the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission," he also said.

WATCH: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said sanctions against Moscow will remain in place until Russia withdraws from Ukraine. (Reuters)

Lavrov told the OSCE meeting that "all the responsibility is with Ukraine" as far as violence in the east was concerned.

The Russian foreign minister also said that Russia supported the OSCE settlement plan and its Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine.

"Both OSCE functions should be aimed at direct dialogue between Kyiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk as stipulated in the Minsk package of measures to which there is no alternative," Lavrov said.

Ahead of the meeting between Tillerson and Lavrov, Tillerson met on the sidelines of the OSCE summit with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

Klimkin told Russia's Interfax news agency that they discussed "joint work on the UN peacekeeping mission" in eastern Ukraine, "energy security," and "U.S. support for an efficient and independent anticorruption system in Ukraine."

On December 6, a day before the start of the two-day Vienna conference, Tillerson said at NATO headquarters in Brussels that "Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security."

He was referring to Moscow's seizure and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"We prioritize ending the violence," Tillerson said. "That’s our first priority, and to seek to do that we need to put a peacekeeping force in place."

The OSCE has deployed 600 unarmed monitors in eastern Ukraine to investigate and discourage cease-fire violations. They often come under fire from the warring factions.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry indicated that Lavrov would also highlight NATO military deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank during the OSCE gathering.

Andrei Kelin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European Cooperation Department, told Interfax on December 7 that he expected contacts and talks at the OSCE gathering to help deescalate tensions in relations between Russia and the West.

"First and foremost, we see the OSCE Ministerial Council as a space for dialogue and the restoration of trust, which has paramount importance amid the currently confrontational atmosphere in European security," Kelin said.

OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger said ahead of the two-day meeting that the risk of military confrontation in Europe is rising amid tensions between NATO and Russia.

Foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the 57 OSCE member countries and 11 partner states were also expected to discuss ways to promote human rights and media freedom, and to fight against terrorism.

With reporting by dpa, Interfax, Reuters, AP, and TASS
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