President Donald Trump has met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against the backdrop of a developing drama over the countries alleged involvement in the US Presidential election, and potential ties to Mr Trump’s team.
FBI Director James Comey, the man leading an investigation to potential Russian meddling in the election, was unceremoniously sacked by Mr Trump the day before the meeting, and the suprise move undoubtedly cast a shadow over Mr Lavrov’s visit.
Both sides sought to praise the meeting, which is the highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian official since Mr Trump took. The US President called the meeting “very good” and when asked whether the Comey dismissal affected the meeting, he said “not at all.”
The Russian diplomat steadfastly refused to weigh in on the firing during the meeting with Mr Trump.Mr Lavrov called it a US decision, echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Russia had nothing to do with Mr Comey’s dismissal.
IBut while it may not have made that meeting, but Mr Lavrov also met earlier with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier and couldn’t resist the opportunity to mock the firing on camera. “He was fired? You’re kidding, you’re kidding,” Mr Lavrov said.
Mr Trump said last month that relations with Russia were at an “all-time low” but speaking after the meeting in the Oval Office, Mr Lavrov sought to blame the previous administration for that, describing the discussion with Mr Trump as “free of ideology, which hampered ties with the Obama White House.” He also referred to Mr Trump’s aides as “people of action.”
Mr Lavrov said Russia wants to “play a decisive role” with the US in Afghanistan, with Mr Trump’s administration recently signalling that the President was thinking about sending an additional 1,500 to 5,000 US troops to the country.
The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for 16 years and currently have 8,400 troops in the country.
There have been reports that senior US military officials have been concerned that Russia may possibly be arming members of the Taliban terror group.
Mr Lavrov also briefly discussed the United Nations Security Council and said he hopes to see a “political solution.” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has not minced words in her criticism of Russia, who have vetoed any resolutions to end the conflict in Syria eight separate times.
The Foreign Minister also mentioned several times that Russia hopes to remove “barriers” to their relationship with the US but did not elaborate further on what those were.
Mr Trump expressed his interest in pursuing “business-like relations” with Russia, according to Mr Lavrov.
Still, the overlap between the FBI Russia investigation and Mr Trump’s diplomatic efforts could not be brushed aside. Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted a photo of Mr Trump shaking hands with Mr Lavrov and the Russian Embassy posted another of the president greeting another participant in the meeting: Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, a central character in…