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Trump to meet top Russian diplomat at the White House

12 May 2017
Trump to meet top Russian diplomat at the White House

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today held talks with President Donald Trump and his American counterpart Rex Tillerson on a host of issues, amid a raging political storm here over the abrupt sacking of the Federal Bureau of Investigation chief who was probing Russias meddling in the USA polls. Russian agencies tweeted photos from the Oval Office showing that in addition to Lavrov, Trump shook hands with Russia's ambassador to America, Sergey Kislyak - a key figure in the investigation into Trump's ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Trump plans to meet with Lavrov on Wednesday, according to his schedule.

Lavrov is speaking at the Russian Embassy in Washington after meetings with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The meeting was the highest-level encounter between the USA administration and Moscow since Trump's inauguration.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that Moscow expected "above all coming to a common understanding on the need for de-escalation in Syria". "We have not seen a single fact, a single proof".

Tillerson and Lavrov are scheduled to meet earlier Wednesday to discuss Ukraine, Syria and bilateral issues, the State Department announced.

"I can confirm Secretary Tillerson will attend the White House meeting with President Trump and Foreign Minister Lavrov", the official said Tuesday.

"It's flattering, of course, to get this kind of attention-for a regional power, as President Obama called us some time ago", Lavrov said, with trademark sarcasm, to CNN in October. "You're kidding! You're kidding!" Tillerson, who worked extensively in Russian Federation in his former job as CEO of ExxonMobil, has made improving ties with Russian Federation a priority, launching a working group to address the issue.

Trump told reporters that the two had a "very very good meeting" and talked about the crisis in Syria. The Syrian settlement and the Russia-sponsored plan to create Syrian safe zones were discussed, he said. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted a photo of a smiling US President shaking hands with Lavrov on Twitter, adding unusual and ironic optics to the questions already swirling around the White House over Comey's firing.

Trump to meet top Russian diplomat at the White House

He's brushing off the questions as "noise" about Russians' contacts with people in Trump's campaign. "It's standard practice", the official said.

The White House says Trump emphasized his desire for better relations with Russian Federation.

Mr Lavrov chalked up the controversy to "noise" and to "false news" - invoking Mr Trump's frequent references to the Russian Federation allegations as "fake news".

US intelligence agencies concluded in a January report that Putin had ordered an effort to disrupt the 2016 election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Trump. Nevertheless, Mr Lavrov struck a conciliatory tone and said Russian Federation isn't intending to retaliate.

Lavrov, who last set foot in Washington in August 2013, would be the highest ranking Russian official to meet with Trump since he took office. With Trump's dismissal of Comey supercharging the Russiagate scandal, they may get even worse. Before that, he was Russia's ambassador to the United Nations in NY from 1994 to 2004.

Tillerson and Lavrov made a brief appearance Wednesday morning for a photo-op, and as Tillerson began to lead his guest back behind closed doors, Lavrov responded to a question about Comey's firing.

The pair's face-to-face meeting comes ahead of an Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.