Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the White House Tuesday for his second meeting of its kind with Donald Trump – on the day Democrats unveiled impeachment articles against the president pegged to his dealings with Ukraine.
Lavrov arrived at the West Wing on a wet afternoon for his post-lunch meeting. He was greeted by reporters, including a CNN correspondent who asked the longtime Russian diplomat whether his country would interfere in the U.S. elections in 2020.
Lavrov said only that he looked forward to meeting the president. He was inside the building for about an hour.
Hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Lavrov, provided a warning about future election interference: ‘Should Russia or a foreign actor steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response,’ he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo(not shown) take part in a press conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC on December 10, 2019. Lavrov visited the White House later Tuesday
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections in a Kremlin-backed hacking operation whose primary purpose was to U.S. sow divisions and hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
And on the other side of Washington, House Democrats were invoking Trump’s invitation for Russia to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign.
Lavrov opened his visit on the very day when Democrats unveiled two impeachment articles against the president, to be voted on Thursday.
Such a gathering would have high diplomatic impact in any circumstances. When it comes to anything Trump-Russia in an election year, it took on even greater significance.
‘Trump, Lavrov, and Pompeo are meeting in private this afternoon. What conspiracy are they cooking up today?’ wrote Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York on Twitter.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the US State Department
President Donald Trump (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, pictured at their last meeting in May 2017, where Trump was accused of sharing classified information
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US President Donald Trump, and Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak (L-R) during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House
Mike Pompeo warned earlier Tuesday: ‘Should Russia or a foreign actor steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response’
Said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel: ‘The last time President Trump welcomed Lavrov to Washington, he handed the Russians classified information, undermining our national security.’ He continued: ‘With President Trump, all roads lead to Putin. The American people deserve to know what happens at this meeting.’
The timing marks a redux of the veteran Russian diplomat’s last visit to Washington in May 2017, when Trump was fighting off allegations that he cooperated with Russia and was accused of sharing classified information with Lavrov.
In that meeting, Trump reportedly revealed highly classified information to the Russians. It was Russia’s news agency that released iconic photos of the encounter, which included former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Andrey Kislyak.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, walks towards the West Wing of the White House to meet with President Donald Trump on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC
Lavrov began the day of talks by meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the Trump administration was determined to pursue its work despite the politics at home.
‘We didn’t pick this date to coincide with the process on Capitol Hill, but we can’t allow the zaniness that’s taking place on Capitol Hill to impact our job,’ Pompeo told conservative broadcaster One America News on Monday.
Pompeo said that he would look to find ways to work with Russia including on improving business ties and on arms control.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the quick renewal, even by the end of the year, of the New Start treaty, the last remaining major arms treaty between the United States and Russia.
Negotiated under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the treaty which expires in February 2021 obligated the two powers to halve their arsenals of strategic nuclear missile launchers.
The Trump administration, while not ruling out an extension, wants a new treaty to include China, which has a quickly growing, but still much smaller, arsenal than Russia and the United States.
The United States earlier this year withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces, which limited missiles that could hit European cities, after saying that Moscow was in violation.
Lavrov is also expected to discuss the hotspots of Iran, North Korea and Syria — where Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, has become even more pre-eminent as the top foreign player after Trump pulled US troops.
– Movement on Ukraine –
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak at a press conference after talks on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris
The talks in Washington come a day after Putin held a landmark first meeting with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, although they did not reach any breakthrough.
The pair met in Paris alongside the presidents of France and Germany, who are leading efforts to end a five-year war in which Ukraine is battling Russian-backed separatists.
The impeachment inquiry is linked to the war, with House Democrats unveiling charges that Trump abuses his power and obstructed Congress.
The White House delayed nearly $400 million in military aid sought by Ukraine to fight the separatists as Trump asked Zelensky to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate seeking to challenge him in 2020 elections.
Trump, in a phone call to Zelensky that triggered the impeachment inquiry, also sought an investigation into a conspiracy theory debunked by US intelligence that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in the 2016 election.
US intelligence says that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election to Trump, especially through manipulation of social media, but an extensive probe by former FBI chief Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence to accuse the Trump campaign of conspiring with Moscow.
After his last visit in May 2017, The Washington Post reported that Trump shared classified information with Lavrov and Russia’s then ambassador to Washington about a threat from the Islamic State group.
The US ally that provided the information, which led to restrictions on laptops in the cabins of commercial flights from the Middle East, did not authorize its sharing, the report said.
The White House denied the accusation but Trump later insisted he had the ‘absolute right’ to share ‘facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.’
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