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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Russian foreign minister says US ready to continue dialogue

Sergei Lavrov met the US secretary of state in Manila for the first time since new US sanctions on Russia and retaliation by Moscow

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at the Asean-US ministerial meeting during the South-East Asian bloc's 50th regional security forum in Manila, Philippines on August 6, 2017. Noel Celis / Reuters
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at the Asean-US ministerial meeting during the South-East Asian bloc's 50th regional security forum in Manila, Philippines on August 6, 2017. Noel Celis / Reuters

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday he believed his US colleagues were ready to continue dialogue with Moscow on complex issues despite a breakdown in bilateral relations.

Mr Lavrov, who met the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of an international gathering in Manila, said the first thing that Mr Tillerson asked about was Russia's retaliation to new US sanctions against Moscow.

"He was primarily interested … in details of those decisions that we grudgingly made in response to the law on anti-Russian sanctions," Mr Lavrov said.

Russian authorities on Wednesday took over a summer-house compound in Moscow leased by the US embassy, five days after the Kremlin ordered Washington to slash its diplomatic presence in Russia.

"We provided an explanation," Mr Lavrov said, referring to the decisions.

Mr Lavrov said he also cited president Vladimir Putin who, in an interview to Russian TV last week, explained Moscow's need to retaliate to the US sanctions over its role in the Ukrainian crisis that were recently expanded to punish Russia for meddling in the US presidential election.

The meeting between Mr Lavrov and Mr Tillerson was their first since US president Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law new sanctions that Russia said amounted to a full-scale trade war and ended hopes for better ties.

Mr Lavrov said he and Mr Tillerson spoke at length on a wide range of topics, from the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula to co-ordination between Russia and the United States to withstand attacks.

"We felt the readiness of our US colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there's no alternative to that," he said.

The two sides agreed that Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov and US undersecretary Thomas Shannon would continue discussing complex issues on the bilateral agenda.

Mr Lavrov said Mr Tillerson told him the US special representative on Ukraine, Kurt Volker, would hold talks with a senior aide to Mr Putin, Vladimir Surkov, "in the nearest future".

Washington sent Mr Volker, a former US envoy to Nato, to Ukraine last month to assess the situation in the former Soviet republic, where a 2015 ceasefire between Kiev's forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country is regularly violated.

"We would be interested to see what impression the US special envoy has on the current state of affairs," Mr Lavrov said.

Washington cites the Ukraine conflict as a key obstacle to improved relations between Russia and the United States.

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