At odds on many fronts, USA and Russian Federation hope for better ties

USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf

On his first trip to Russia as U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he warned his Russian counterpart against any "unacceptable" Russian meddling in U.S. elections.

It's not clear what such action would look like, though Pompeo said that the US "would not tolerate that", and that it would make US-Russia relations even worse than they already are. "Our elections are important and sacred and they must be free and fair".

Lavrov however repeated Moscow's denials of interference and said it was "absolute fiction" that Russian Federation had colluded with the Trump campaign.

Saying that "such insinuations are absolutely fake", Lavrov added that with the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, "we hope that this tumultuous situation will die down".

"My impression is that the president is set to restore Russian-American relations, contacts, to jointly resolve issues that are of mutual interest to us", Putin told Pompeo in front of reporters before a private meeting on Tuesday. The meeting took place as tensions between the US and Iran continue.

He also noted that "there was no personal message from Putin to Trump".

Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said later that the Kremlin is prepared to agree to any format for a Putin-Trump meeting.

Pompeo also said he "raised the issue of U.S. citizens who have been detained in Russia" - U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine has been held since his arrest in late December.

Pompeo said that improved ties "will be good not only for our two countries but for the whole world as well". He later called on "every country that's interfering in Venezuela to cease doing that. Everything will depend on what our USA partners want", Ushakov said.

As well as the issue of interference in United States elections, the two men also clashed over Venezuela, with Lavrov sharply criticising Washington for trying to undermine President Nicolas Maduro, who Pompeo said must now step down in the face of economic crisis and large-scale protests against his rule. The U.S. has accused Iran of threatening to attack American interests in the Middle East and suggested that Iran or Iranian proxies are behind incidents of alleged sabotage on Emirati, Norwegian and Saudi tankers in the Persian Gulf.

"As soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the United States was the initiator of this collapse, Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction", Putin said.

Pompeo cancelled a stop in Moscow Monday to instead have an unscheduled meeting in Brussels with European foreign ministers, who have been uncomfortable with the hawkish direction of the USA on Iran.

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