US top diplomat to meet Putin on first Russia trip with Iran in focus

US top diplomat to meet Putin on first Russia trip with Iran in focus

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during his first trip to Russia as the top US diplomat.

Iran’s nuclear programme was expected to be a focus of Pompeo’s talks with the Russian leadership, as was the political crisis in Venezuela and the Syrian conflict, Russian state media reported.

Pompeo was set to first talk with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during the series of meetings in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The Kremlin said it considered the Pompeo-Lavrov meeting as the “main event,” according to comments by spokesman Dmitry Peskov carried by state news agency TASS.

The subsequent meeting with Putin was to be an opportunity for Pompeo and Lavrov to present the “results of their talks and discuss those issues that are evident,” Peskov was quoted as saying.

Pompeo had initially intended to come to Moscow on Monday but cancelled that leg of his journey, instead going to Brussels to meet US allies about “recent threatening actions” by Iran, the State Department said.

Iran, a Russian ally, announced last week it was partially withdrawing from a 2015 agreement intended to prevent it from building a nuclear bomb. The US had also exited the deal.

Iran’s leadership suggested it would commence uranium enrichment unless crippling economic sanctions against the country were removed.

Lavrov, who met Iran’s top diplomat in Moscow as the Iranian announcement was made, blamed the US for the deal falling apart, saying the “unacceptable situation” has emerged “because of the United States’ irresponsible behaviour.”

The US has “abandoned its commitments enshrined in the relevant UN Security Council resolution,” Lavrov said at the time in comments carried by TASS.

Lavrov and Pompeo had met earlier that week in Finland on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting. Lavrov described their talks as constructive, according to televised comments.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed hope Pompeo would be ready to “inspect the wreckage” of bilateral relations during his visit to Russia.

“It’ll be of utmost importance for us to understand whether the US administration will be ready … to inspect the wreckage of our relations and find a way to move forward,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Interfax.

Relations between the former Cold War rivals in recent years have wallowed at their lowest point since the Soviet era as they support opposing sides in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Ryabkov emphasized that improving relations was a focus of a phone call earlier this month between Putin and US President Donald Trump.