Heads of Russian and U.S. diplomacy on Tuesday met in the Russian coastal city of Sochi for the second time in two weeks amid hopes for improved ties between the two countries.
Addressing a news conference following the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he discussed bilateral relations, the latest developments in the Middle East, Venezuela, Ukraine, Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"The talks were open and useful. It is clear that our relations with the U.S. are going through hard times, and the potential remains largely unfulfilled," Lavrov said.
The top diplomats of Russia and the U.S. agreed on the need to ease the tension between the two countries, he added.
Lavrov also voiced hope for a better Russian-U.S. dialogue after U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
While the special counsel determined there was a lack of evidence linking the U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign to Russia's attempts to sway the 2016 election in Trump's favor, it was not as clear-cut on obstruction as the president suggested.
During the meeting, Lavrov and Pompeo agreed to continue anti-terror efforts.
"We also spoke about the Middle East. [...] We discussed the necessity of the complete eradication of the terrorism in Syria, repatriation of refugees, humanitarian issues and launch of the political process," Lavrov said.
On May, Lavrov and Pompeo held talks in Finland on the sidelines of the 11th ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council and discussed topics concerning "strategic stability", Lavrov said later at a news conference.
- Green light for agreement on Iran nuclear deal
Lavrov said they had many disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (JCPOA).
"Bu the fact that we speak on this topic, and we will continue to speak. This gives us hope that some agreements can be reached," he said.
Lavrov promised to continue efforts for a compromise between Washington and Tehran not to let the situation to turn into "a war scenario".
On the Venezuela crisis, Lavrov reiterated Russia is against interfering in the internal affairs of the South American country.
"Democracy is not established by force. The threats against the Maduro government have nothing to do with democracy," he said.
In January, Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself acting president, fueling the tension in the country in the wake of protests after President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.
Lavrov also said that he passed Pompeo a list of proposals that includes establishment of an expert council, consisting of former soldiers and diplomats, that would try to find solutions for existing problems.
Another proposal was to create a bilateral business council, uniting the representatives of the commerce communities of the two countries.
- US eyes ‘improved relations’ with Russia
Pompeo, for his part, said the U.S. President Donald Trump expects that “we will have an improved relationship between our countries.
“And I think that our talks here today were a good step in that direction," he said.
Commenting on the situation in Syria, Pompeo voiced concern about the escalation of violence in Idlib and north-west of the country.
In recent weeks, the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia, have intensified attacks against the last major rebel enclave, Idlib.
The offensive threatens to unleash a major humanitarian catastrophe with 180,000 civilians already being forced to flee their homes in the last two weeks.
On the Crimea issue, Pompeo reiterated the U.S. rejection of Russia’s “attempted annexation of Crimea”.
"I urged Russia to reach out to Ukraine's new president [Volodymyr Zelensky], to demonstrate a leadership by taking step towards breaking the stalemate,” he said.
The two officials also discussed the ways to reach a cease-fire in the Donbas region, Pompeo said.
- ‘US fundamentally do not seek war with Iran’
Also addressing the sanctions against Iran, Pompeo said the U.S. will continue to apply pressure on Iran until its leadership is "ready to return to the ranks of the responsible nations".
Commenting the deployment of some 120,000 U.S. troops to the Iran border, Pompeo said the movement of troops is a part of a plan "to make it clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion".
However, he added: "We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran.”
As for the arms control, the U.S. is seeking broader participation in the talks on it, Pompeo said.
"President wants serious arms control that delivers will and security to the American people and we know, and I think we agree on this, how to achieve these goals, we'll have to work together and that it would be important that if it's possible we get China involved as well," he said.
In turn, Lavrov said he expected to prolong the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for the next five-year term despite existing disagreements.
By Elena Teslova in Moscow