U.S. Tensions Over Ambassador Meetings Harm Detente Effort, Russia Warns

  • ‘Malicious campaign’ fuels controversy, deputy minister says
  • Cooperation needed on Syria, nuclear weapons, Ryabkov says

U.S. Attorney General Removes Himself From Russia Inquiry

Russia warned that efforts to restore relations with the U.S. are being harmed by a “malicious campaign” over meetings between its envoy to Washington and President Donald Trump’s administration.

The political controversy over Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s contacts with U.S. officials is “harming our relations which are already in a bad condition, having been deliberately destroyed by the Obama administration,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview Friday in Moscow. “It’s clear that the current situation hinders the restoration of these relations on a positive path of development.”

Russia seeks “practical cooperation in areas where such cooperation is needed” with the U.S., including on counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, economic investment and a settlement to the Syrian war, Ryabkov said. “We’ll continue to work hard” to restore relations, he said.

Controversy over meetings with the ambassador prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself Thursday from investigations into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and led to Michael Flynn’s ouster as national security adviser last month. Following years of confrontation with the U.S. under President Barack Obama, Russian officials saw hope for better ties when Trump took office. They’re now growing frustrated over the lack of progress after Trump heaped praise on President Vladimir Putin during the campaign and pledged to work with him, including in fighting terrorism.

‘Witch Hunt’

The accusations in Washington over contacts with Kislyak “look very similar to a witch hunt or the period of McCarthyism which we thought was long gone in the U.S. as a civilized country,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow, referring to anti-communist investigations led by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Applying the same standard to U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft’s contacts would produce “a very funny picture,” Lavrov said.

Ryabkov and Tefft met Friday in Moscow to discuss “bilateral issues,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Facebook that she told Tefft after the meeting: “You put yourself at risk by talking to Russian diplomats.”

Trump on Thursday blamed his Democratic Party opponents for the controversy over Sessions. The Republican president made no mention of Russia or Putin in his first speech to Congress on Tuesday even as he declared that the U.S. is “willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Tuesday that Trump should make good on his pledge to mount a joint fight against Islamic State in Syria and there’d been “enough talk about it.”

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