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Pompeo, Lavrov spar on Iran and Venezuela after day of meetings in Russia

Pompeo warns Lavrov about election meddling

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both described their discussions on several international issues as "frank." But that was one of the few things the leaders appeared agree upon -- their subsequent press conference revealed a number of areas where the two countries could not come to a consensus. 

During their remarks, Lavrov appeared to suggest that the two leaders could not agree on the issue of Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, regarding the regime's escalating nuclear ambitions. Pompeo had planned a visit to Moscow beforehand, but it was scrapped so that he could travel to Belgium to talk with European officials about the growing threat posed by Iran. 

"We have many difference here," Lavrov said, adding that "we will continue to discuss the situation," and he expressed hope "that certain agreements could be reached with the support of the U.S. and Russia." The foreign minister criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the international pact, saying it was a "mistake" to withdraw from the JCPOA. He also was critical of U.S. sanctions punishing countries doing business with Iran. 

Pompeo meanwhile denied that the U.S. was eyeing military action with the regime for the time being, but he did not rule it out altogether.

"We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran," he said. "We want the regime to stop conducting assassination campaigns."

Pompeo added that reports of U.S. movement of over 100,000 troops to the region would be left up to the Department of Defense. "If American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriation fashion," said Pompeo. Lavrov, however, hoped that those reports were "just rumors."

"This region is already so tense with different conflicts and difficult situations," Lavrov remarked. 

The two also differed on the issue of Venezuela, too. Here, Pompeo said he urged his Russian counterpart to reconsider and agree that the "time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go." 

"We want every country interfering in Venezuela to cease doing that. We want Venezuela to get their democracy back," said Pompeo. 

The U.S. has been critical of Russia for propping up Maduro's regime. But Russia recognizes Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate leader and has forces in Venezuela as part of a longstanding military partnership, and in March, sent about 100 more Russian personnel.   

Lavrov asserted that Russia is "for the nation of Venezuela to define its own future."  

"Democracy can not be done by force. It's threats that we hear against Maduro's government, threats of the mouths of officials...this has nothing in common with democracy," argued Lavrov. 

Pompeo's meeting with Lavrov comes after President Trump told reporters Monday that he would be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit of world leaders in Japan. That meeting however, has not been confirmed by the Kremlin

"We heard statements by President Trump that he expected to hold a meeting with President Putin including during the G20 summit in Osaka. We heard a proposal -- if we receive such an official invitation we'll respond positively," said Lavrov. 

Despite ongoing concerns over Mr. Trump's friendliness Putin amid the continuing investigations into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election process, the president defended his relationship with the leader on Monday, saying that the U.S. has been "strong" against Russia, and that it "makes sense to get along with Russia."

Pompeo's talks with Lavrov are the highest-level face-to-face talks between Washington and Russia since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election meddling.  At a meeting between the U.S. and Russian delegations, Putin referred to the Mueller report as a "very objective investigation" and reiterated Russia's official position that there was no "collusion" with the Trump campaign. 

"I'm hoping the situation [in the relationship] is changing" after the report's release he added. 

Lavrov also denied any Russian interference in the U.S. election. The foreign minister said that channels of communication between the two countries frozen "largely due to baseless accusations" of Russia influencing the U.S. election process and colluding with the Trump campaign. 

"It's clear such insinuations are absolutely fake," said Lavrov.  "We hope this tumultuous situation will die down and lead to professional dialogue between the U.S. and Russia."

Pomepo, however, delivered a warning to Russia after Lavrov repeatedly denied Russia ever meddled. "Interference in the American election is unacceptable," said Pompeo. He added that the U.S. would not tolerate similar engagement in the upcoming 2020 election. 

"There are things Russia can do to convey that these types of activities are a thing of the past and I hope they take advantage of that."

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