Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday morning to discuss a dizzying array of issues amid the firestorm over President Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The two top diplomats shook hands for reporters during a brief photo opp before their meeting, and as reporters began to shout questions, Tillerson waved them off and made a brief statement.
“I want to welcome Foreign Minister Lavrov to the State Department and express my appreciation for him making the trip to Washington so that we can continue our dialogue and exchange of views that began in Moscow, with the dialogue he hosted, on a very broad range of topics,” he said.
The two are expected to address the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and likely the story seizing Washington right now – Comey’s dismissal.
Lavrov, however, played dumb on the topic, mocking reporters who shouted questions about Comey.
“Was he fired?” he asked sarcastically. “You’re kidding! You’re kidding!”
Lavrov arrived at the White House shortly after to meet with President Trump. The foreign minister is the highest-ranking Russian official Trump has met with so far as president.
The tête-à-tête is entirely closed to press, marking the sixth day in the row that the president has held no public events.
Tillerson’s meeting with Lavrov was the second since Tillerson has been in office. It’s also Lavrov’s first trip to Washington since August 2013, a sign of the high-stakes conversations between the two countries, even as Tillerson and others have said the relationship is at an all-time low.
In reference to Tillerson’s meeting, the State Department indicated that Wednesday’s agenda was to include Syria, Ukraine, and other bilateral issues. The White House, however, did not elaborate further on Trump’s meeting with Lavrov.
In particular, Tillerson and Lavrov were expected to discuss the “de-escalation zones” inside Syria that Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to create last week. Four areas in the civil war-ravaged country are supposed to be under ceasefire starting this week — but it’s unclear how they are to be enforced or by whom, amid reports of continued fighting.
The U.S. has been wary of Iran’s involvement and the past failures at a ceasefire in Syria. Trump often called for the creation of “safe zones” in Syria on the campaign trail as part of his reasoning to ban Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. Tillerson himself made a mention of “interim zones of stability” in an address to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, but has offered few details.
Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted a mocking “correction” of the State Department’s press release on today’s meetings.
In particular, there was lingering concern that Tillerson won’t address the Russian hack during the 2016 election or push back against Russian interference in Ukraine or its annexation of Crimea.
The meeting was…