Pompeo warns Russia: US won’t tolerate election interference

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the United States would not tolerate future Russian interference in American elections.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Sochi, Pompeo said he told Lavrov that “interference in American elections is unacceptable and if the Russians were engaged in that in 2020 it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been.”

“We would not tolerate that,” Pompeo said.{mosads}

President Trump’s chief diplomat has faced pressure from Democrats to take a hard line on Russia’s election interference during his meeting with Russian officials this week. Pompeo said Tuesday that the U.S. was opposed to interference from any country.

“We’ve said this not only about the Russians but about other countries as well,” he told reporters. “Our elections are important and sacred and they must be kept free and fair and with no outside country interfering.”

Russia has long denied interfering in the 2016 presidential election, despite the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community. On Tuesday, Lavrov accused the U.S. of meddling in Russian political affairs and described allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election as “baseless.”

“Such insinuations are absolutely fake,” Lavrov said in opening remarks, according to a translator.

Pompeo spoke to reporters after meeting with Lavrov in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The two said they discussed a variety of bilateral and global issues, including arms control, the political upheaval in Venezuela, North Korean denuclearization and Iran.

The secretary of State later described the discussion as “frank” and said the two discussed a variety of areas of disagreement, including Russia’s support for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

“On Venezuela, we have disagreement. I urged my Russian colleagues to support the Venezuelan people as they return democracy to their country,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also indicated that arms control was a major part of the discussion, following the Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from a decades-old arms control pact that Washington has long accused Moscow of violating.

The top U.S. diplomat said he conveyed Trump’s desire to expand arms controls agreements to include more countries and weapons systems, saying it would be “important” to involve China in future agreements to the extent possible.

“The president wants serious arms control that delivers real security to the American people,” Pompeo said, noting the two countries would have “more extensive’ discussions about arms control going forward.

Pompeo also emphasized the desire of the Trump administration to improve relations with Russia in order to work on areas of mutual concern, describing Tuesday’s talks as “a good step in that direction.”

“We had a frank discussions about many issues, including many places we disagree,” Pompeo told reporters. “The United States stands ready to find common ground with Russia as long as the two of us can engage seriously on those issues.”

“President Trump has made clear that his expectation is that we will have an improved relationship between our two countries, this will benefit each of our peoples, and I think that our talks here today were a good step in that direction,” Pompeo added.

Lavrov likewise described the meeting as a “frank and useful conversation” meant to build on the one-on-one meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last summer and the phone call between the two leaders earlier this month.

Lavrov in part blamed the low point in the U.S.-Russia relationship on the policies enacted under the Obama administration and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Russia is interested in normalizing our dialogue and we’re convinced that is quite possible and real if we hold this dialogue on mutually respect and consideration of each other’s interest,” Lavrov said, according to a translation.

Pompeo’s trip to Russia, which was also slated to include a meeting with Putin, comes weeks after Mueller’s report into Russian interference was released. The 448-page document provided an exhaustive account of Kremlin-backed efforts to use social media and the release of hacked material to meddle in the 2016 vote to sway it in Trump’s favor.

Mueller did not ultimately establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to meddle in the election, a result Trump has cheered as vindicating him and his associates of allegations of Russia “collusion.”

Trump said Monday he plans to meet with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Osaka, Japan, at the end of June. 

Tags 2016 Russian election interference Donald Trump Mike Pompeo Robert Mueller Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin

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