Donald Trump

Kremlin has ‘cautious optimism’ ahead of high-stakes meeting between Trump and Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his US counterpart Donald Trump in July on the fringes of a Group of 20 summit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 11:03pm

The Kremlin feels cautious optimism about the prospects for an improvement in US-Russian relations after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met US President Donald Trump in Washington, a Kremlin spokesman said on Thursday.

“The conversation itself is extremely positive,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the Kremlin viewed the prospects of a thaw “with cautious optimism”.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.

As Washington reeled at the dismissal of FBI chief James Comey, who had been probing Russia’s alleged interference in the US election, a beaming Trump met Lavrov at the White House on Wednesday.

Lavrov’s American counterpart Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has admitted that US-Russian relations are at their lowest ebb since the cold war and that there is almost no trust left.

Diplomats are working to thaw ties by resolving small issues, which officials said includes day-to-day battles such as US complaints that its officials posted to Russia are subjected to low level covert harassment.

Watch: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov speaks after White House visit

But Trump remains hopeful that Putin can be convinced to help end the Syrian civil war by reining in Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad and his other key foreign backer - Iran.

Trump “emphasised his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia,” the White House said.

Lavrov is the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Washington since Trump came to power in January, and earned a rare invitation to the Oval Office for a head-to-head. It came ahead of a

planned meeting between Trump and President Vladimir Putin in July on the fringes of a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

The Oval Office meeting followed a similar visit last month by Tillerson to Moscow, where he was received at the Kremlin by Putin.

Before visiting the White House, Lavrov and Tillerson huddled to discuss the crises in Syria and Ukraine - talks qualified by the veteran Russian diplomat as “constructive”.

“We had a very, very good meeting” Trump said shortly after seeing Lavrov.

“We’re going to stop the killing and the death.”

Trump, the White House said, told Lavrov Moscow should “rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies.” Lavrov said he had sought support for a plan to create safe zones in Syria.

Lavrov, who last set foot in Washington in August 2013, dismissed all claims of election meddling as “fabrications” - echoing Trump’s claim that they amount to “fake news”.

“President Trump clearly confirmed his interest in building mutually beneficial, business-like pragmatic relations,” he said.

In Russia, Putin said his government had “nothing to do with” the surprise firing of Comey, following up his first public comments on Tuesday night’s shock announcement with a six-goal outburst in a gala hockey match for the Night Hockey League on Wednesday at Sochi’s Bolshoy Ice Dome.

CBS News foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer asked the president how the firing would affect relations between the United States and Russia.

“There will be no effect,” said Putin, whose remarks in Russian were translated by spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Your question looks very funny for me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that.

Relations between the two former cold war foes soured under former president Barack Obama over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its unyielding support for Assad.

Since March 2011, the Syrian conflict has caused more than 320,000 deaths and forced millions of refugees to flee.

Neither Washington, which backs the opposition, nor Moscow, a longtime ally of the Syrian regime, have managed to find a solution to the conflict.

Robert Delaney, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Kyodo, The Guardian