Trump tells Russian diplomat he wants ‘a better relationship’

Donald Trump, Sergey Lavrov, Russia
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

President Trump on Wednesday told Russia’s top diplomat he wants to improve ties with Moscow, according to the White House. 

During an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the White House said the president “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.” 

“He also raised the possibility of broader cooperation on resolving conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere,” the White House said in a statement. 

{mosads}Trump’s meeting with Lavrov is his highest-level in-person engagement with the Russian government since he was inaugurated. 

It came one day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing an investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign. 

Critics blasted Trump’s decision as an attempt to stymie the probe, which is examining whether any Trump associates cooperated with Moscow’s election meddling effort. White House officials have denied that’s the case. 

U.S. reporters were not permitted to cover the meeting. 

Photographs circulated by the Russian government showed the president also met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. who is at the center of the controversy. 

An official White House statement on the meeting did not mention that Kislyak was present. 

The White House assembled reporters to go into the Oval Office around the time of the meeting, but when they entered, they found Trump meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

Trump said the two men spoke about the conflict in Syria as well as U.S.-Russia relations. Asked if the Comey firing affected his meeting with Lavrov, Trump replied, “Not at all.”

Earlier in the day, Lavrov met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department. The Russian diplomat scoffed at reporters who asked him about Comey’s firing. 

“Was he fired?” he asked in mock surprise. “You’re kidding, you’re kidding.” 

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