SOCHI, Russia – Russia and the United States voiced hope Tuesday that badly strained relations could begin to improve despite wide differences on multiple fronts and deep mutual suspicion deepened by Russian meddling in American elections.
With tensions running high over Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed vindication from the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and said he thought it was time to move on.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conveyed President Donald Trump's interest in restoring better ties.
In the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since special counsel Robert Mueller's report was released last month, Putin told Pompeo he hoped relations with the U.S. would now improve.
Still, his claim of vindication covered only allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to hurt Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Putin did not address Mueller's conclusion that Russia actively interfered in the election.
“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 said as he opened the meeting with Pompeo in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“Still, that was one of the reasons for the certain break in our interstate ties,” he said. “I'm hoping today that the situation is changing.”
Pompeo did not specifically mention election meddling in his brief reply to Putin, although he did say the Trump administration would “protect our nation's interest.” Earlier, though, Pompeo made clear that any repeat of the 2016 meddling would not be tolerated.
“Interference in American elections is unacceptable,” Pompeo said at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “If Russia were to engage in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it is. We have encouraged them not to. We wouldn't tolerate that. Our elections are important and sacred and they must be free and fair.”
Putin told Pompeo his recent telephone conversation with Trump raised hopes for an improvement in relations.
“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 said.
Pompeo spoke of “truly overlapping interests” that the two countries “can build on, and most importantly, President Trump very much wants to do that.” He cited cooperation in Afghanistan and counterterrorism more broadly, but also a shared goal of getting North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
Venezuela was a key point of discussion, with the U.S. firm in its commitment to support opposition figure Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader and Russia equally firm in its backing of embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have repeatedly accused Russia, along with Cuba, of propping up Maduro and demanded that Russian and other foreign troops, intelligence officers and security forces leave the country.
Trump Jr. agrees to closed-door panel
WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee has struck a deal with Donald Trump Jr. to appear for a closed-door interview next month, pulling the two sides back, for now, from a confrontation over a subpoena as part of the panel's Russia investigation.
Under the terms of the deal, according to two people familiar with the agreement, Trump Jr. will talk to the committee in mid-June for up to four hours.
The deal comes after the panel subpoenaed President Donald Trump's eldest son to discuss answers he gave the panel's staff in a 2017 interview. Trump Jr. had backed out of interviews twice.
Florida says Russians saw databases
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Russian hackers gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.
DeSantis said the hackers didn't manipulate any data and the election results weren't compromised. He and officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were briefed by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Friday.
The governor said he signed an agreement with the FBI not to disclose the names of the counties, but elections officials in those counties are aware of the intrusions.