Trump to meet top Russian diplomat at the White House – USA TODAY
The White House reports Comey’s dismissal comes after he was found in the middle of several political controversies like Russia’s possible election interference and Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified e-mails.
WASHINGTON – President Trump will meet Wednesday with Vladimir Putinâs top diplomat at the White House on Wednesday, the White House said, marking the highest level, face-to-face contact with Russia of the American leaderâs young presidency. It would also signal that the two countries have improved ties that Trump recently described as being at an âall-time low.â
Trumpâs talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take place after the Russianâs meetings earlier in the day with secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
A Russian plan to stabilize Syria after more than six years of civil war is the most urgent foreign policy topic on the agenda. But the meeting will be impossible to separate from the Trump administrationâs unfolding political drama in Washington, where FBI and congressional investigations are looking into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin related to last yearâs presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse Moscow of meddling to help Trumpâs chances of victory.
The sigma of the Russia probes has been impossible for Trump to shake. Trump on Tuesday abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, dramatically ousting the nationâs top law enforcement official in the midst of the bureauâs investigation into Trumpâs ties with Russia.
Less than a month into Trumpâs presidency, he fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying Flynn misled senior administration officials about his pre-inauguration talks with Sergey Kislyak, Russiaâs ambassador in Washington.
In a Senate hearing Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said she bluntly warned Trumpâs White House in January that Flynn âessentially could be blackmailedâ by the Russians because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Kislyak.
Trump has said he has no ties to Russia and isnât aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian election interference. He calls the various investigations a âhoaxâ driven by Democrats still bitter that their candidate, Hillary Clinton, was defeated last year.
But in the meantime, his hopes for a possible rapprochement with Moscow, so regularly repeated during the campaign, have been derailed. Ties soured further in April after the U.S. blamed a Russian ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, for a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians and Trump fired some 60 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in response.
After Tillerson visited Putin and Lavrov in Moscow on April 12, Trump said flatly, âRight now weâre not getting along with Russia at all.â
Still, Tillersonâs meeting provided a blueprint for how the former Cold War foes might go about improving ties.
A main focus is Syria, where both governments want to end a civil war that has killed up to 400,000 people, contributed to a global refugee crisis and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terror threat. The continued fighting between rebels and Assadâs military has complicated U.S. efforts to defeat IS.
Lavrov will be coming to the American capital with a Russian plan to end the violence, after hashing out an agreement with Iran and Turkey last week.
It focuses on the creation of four de-escalation zones. Critical details still need to be finalized and the U.S. response has been cautious, with top officials such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying theyâre still studying the concept and its various unanswered questions. The would-be safe zones would not cover areas where the U.S.-led coalition is fighting IS.
Despite the lack of clarity, the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Lavrov would in itself be a sign of some progress.
The Russian diplomat hasnât visited Washington at all since 2013, a year before Russiaâs annexation of Ukraineâs Crimea region and two years before it intervened militarily in Syria to help Assad remain in power.