SOCHI, Russia (AP) — On his first trip to Russia as U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo warned his Russian counterpart against any "unacceptable" Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
At a news conference following three hours of meetings Tuesday, Pompeo said he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that any such action by the Russians in the 2020 elections "would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been."
Following their discussions in the resort city of Sochi which covered an array of issues that have heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, including Iran and Venezuela, Pompeo and Lavrov briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the start of that session, Putin told Pompeo that his recent conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump raised hopes for an improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow.
"As you know, not long ago, a few days ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the president of the United States by telephone," he said.
"For me, it created the impression that the president intends to restore Russian-American connections and contacts to resolve joint issues that present mutual interests."
He also noted that the report by special prosecutor Robert Mueller could help to ease tensions between the two countries.
"However exotic the work of Special Counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he has had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there were no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we said was absolutely fake," Putin told Pompeo through a translator.
"As we said before there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there. Still that was one of the reasons of certain break in our inter-state ties."
Pompeo said there are "truly overlapping interests" that the two countries "can build on, and most importantly, President Trump very much wants to do that."
Venezuela was a key point of discussion between the two diplomats. The United States supports opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and Russia backs President Nicolas Maduro.
Lavrov defended Russia's position and said the threats Maduro's government is receiving from U.S. administration officials coupled with Guaido's seeming support for a foreign military intervention, "bear no relation to democracy."
Iran was a key point of discussion amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Last week, the United States sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Middle East in response to intelligence that Iran was planning attacks on American interests.
"We fundamentally don't seek a war with Iran," Pompeo said.
Lavrov said Russia is hoping for a positive response from the United States about extending the New START arms control treaty, which is due to expire in 2021, "but we really have some concerns which are related to the re-equipping of launchers of Trident submarines and heavy bombers announced by the United States."
A day after Trump said he would meet with Putin at the Group of 20 summit of leaders in Japan in June, Lavrov said it has not received a formal proposal.
"If such a proposal is received, we will respond to it in a positive way," he said.
Lavrov earlier said both countries are overdue to dispel "suspicions and prejudices" and to "start building a new constructive framework" of how Russia and the U.S see each other.