Russian Foreign Minister Visits Washington, D.C., To Meet With Trump And Pompeo

Dec 10, 2019
Originally published on December 10, 2019 5:05 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Just before President Trump hosted Russia's foreign minister at the White House today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a warning.

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MIKE POMPEO: I made our expectations of Russia clear. The Trump administration will always work to protect the integrity of our elections, period. Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response.

CORNISH: Russia's foreign minister used the occasion to once again deny that his country meddled in the 2016 vote. NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now from the State Department, and Michele, to start, was there anything new from Russians in terms of these specific allegations of interference?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Not really. I mean, what we heard was a very lengthy denial by Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Let's take a listen.

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SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: So what he's saying is that joint work has been hindered by what he calls this wave of suspicions about Russia. He said there are no facts to back up those allegations, and he called on the U.S. to release the communications that Russia had with the Obama administration at the time.

CORNISH: What did Secretary Pompeo say in response to all this?

KELEMEN: Well, he didn't make any promises about that, but he would only say this.

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POMPEO: We think we shared plenty of facts to show what happened in the 2016 election with our Russian counterparts. We don't think there's any mistake about what really transpired there.

KELEMEN: And President Trump, who's been skeptical of the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, had a meeting - a private meeting afterwards with Sergey Lavrov. The White House said that he also warned Russia in that private meeting not to interfere in U.S. elections.

CORNISH: And the backdrop to this, of course - House Democrats announcing articles of impeachment against President Trump, including obstruction of Congress. How did Pompeo talk about that today, if at all?

KELEMEN: Well, he said that, you know, he has complied with all the legal requirements. He points out that a number of State Department officials did testify under oath, though his department has not complied with congressional subpoenas for documents. And that's about all he would say on the topic. It's a subject that he tends to avoid, but Ukraine did come up more broadly. Pompeo repeated that it's U.S. policy not to recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and to push Russia to end the war in eastern Ukraine. Those were also topics that came up in the White House meeting.

CORNISH: Another topic - arms control. Is that something that came up today, the relationship between U.S. and Russia on that front?

KELEMEN: Yeah. Russia is offering to extend what's called the New START agreement. It expires in 2021, and arms control experts say without that, the world's two largest nuclear arsenals will not be under any limits for the first time since 1972. So they really want to see the Trump administration accept this Russian proposal to extend the treaty. Pompeo, though, wants the agreement to be more expansive. He wants it to include China as well. The problem is they haven't started those negotiations. The Russians say that China isn't interested, and the clock's ticking.

CORNISH: The Trump administration talks a lot about getting U.S. prisoners home. I know there's a high-profile case in Russia now. Did either Lavrov or Pompeo address that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. It's Paul Whelan. He's a former U.S. Marine. Lavrov said Whelan has made arrogant accusations against Russian officials at a prison where he's being held. I asked State Department officials about that, and they say the U.S. has serious concerns about allegations of mistreatment and a lack of evidence in the case.

CORNISH: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.