(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, a discussion certain to draw scrutiny given Trump’s history with the Kremlin envoy.
A senior administration official said Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will discuss the state of the bilateral relationship with Lavrov. Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that Lavrov would meet Trump hours before the White House confirmed it.
Lavrov is making his first visit to Washington since a trip in 2017 set off a storm of criticism. Trump told Lavrov in an Oval Office meeting that he had relieved pressure from an investigation into his dealings with Russia by firing James Comey as FBI director, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
He also was alleged to have disclosed sensitive intelligence information to his Russian guests, though the White House disputed those reports.
In May, Pompeo and Lavrov met in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the top U.S. diplomat also held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While Pompeo called those talks “very productive,” relations between the countries remain at the lowest point since the Cold War. While most of official Washington regards Russia as an adversary over its interference in the 2016 election, its military incursion into Ukraine and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Trump again called for closer ties while at the NATO summit in London last week.
Trump has repeatedly advocated for a new arms-control agreement with Moscow and Beijing, despite withdrawing from an accord governing intermediate-range weapons after Russia was alleged to have violated it.
“With respect to nuclear weapons, I’ve spoken to President Putin and I’ve communicated with him,” Trump said. “We are — he very much wants to and so do we — work out a treaty of some kind on nuclear weapons.”
The visit comes as Trump is facing an impeachment investigation that turns in part on his embrace of a discredited theory that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Lavrov arrives a day after the Justice Department’s inspector general released the results of an inquiry into the FBI’s investigation in 2016 of people associated with Trump’s presidential campaign.
Russia has criticized U.S. plans to keep troops in Syria and warned that time is running out to extend an existing arms-control agreement called New Start.
“It’s hard to say what the rush is” for the Lavrov meeting, said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and foreign policy analyst. “The only thing would be to get the negotiations started on extending” the New Start agreement, he said.
Tuesday’s meeting comes a day after Putin meets in Paris with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for talks on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Trump has also said he’s considering Putin’s invitation to come to the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9 in Moscow.
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