WASHINGTON, (AFP): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet President Vladimir Putin next week in Russia in the highest-level formal talks between the powers in 10 months, the State Department said Friday.
The top US diplomat will meet Putin on Tuesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to “discuss the full range of bilateral and multilateral challenges,” the State Department said.
The United States and Russia are at loggerheads over a number of global issues including Venezuela, where Pompeo has led US calls to demand that Moscow stop backing President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist whom Washington is trying to oust.
The trip marks the most significant US interaction with Putin since July, when President Donald Trump met the Russian leader in Finland in an encounter that was widely criticized inside the United States.
Trump at a joint news conference appeared to take at face value Putin’s insistence that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election — despite findings of US intelligence as well as Putin’s open statement in Helsinki that he favored Trump over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Pompeo’s trip comes after the long-awaited release of a probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who found widespread efforts by Russia to meddle in the US election but did not find that the Trump campaign colluded — a conclusion that has brought relief to the embattled White House.
Trump again raised eyebrows a week ago when he said that Putin told him in a lengthy phone call that he was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela” and wanted to “see something positive happen” in the crisis-torn country.
Russia earlier announced Pompeo’s visit but it had been unclear whether he would meet Putin. He will also hold talks in Sochi with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — their second meeting in as many weeks after they met on the sidelines of an Arctic conference in Helsinki.
Pompeo will also visit Moscow, where he will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier dedicated to Soviet troops killed in World War II — an era when Moscow and Washington were allied.
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