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Putin: Russia Collusion Theory Following 2016 Election Damaged Russia-US Relations

"This mistrust that we have hinders both your security and ours," Lavrov warned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Moscow (dpa) - A visit from the top American diplomat to Russia was blighted by disputes over the Iranian nuclear program and the Venezuelan political crisis even as Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope for mending frayed ties between the former rivals.

Major points of contention quickly surfaced on Tuesday after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, both assured that their countries want to mend their strained relations.

"This mistrust that we have hinders both your security and ours," Lavrov warned Pompeo at a meeting in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi in televised remarks.

Pompeo also met Putin for closed-door talks during his first trip to Russia with Putin reiterating interest in improving relations, according to excerpts released by Russian state news agency TASS.

"We, from our side, have repeatedly said that we would like to fully restore relations," Putin said. "I hope that now the necessary conditions will be created to that effect."

Putin suggested that Russia and the US have much to discuss regarding the stability of energy markets as the US becomes the world's "largest oil producer."

Russia's oil-dependent economy has struggled in recent years as a global supply glut has pushed down prices for the commodity.

In a major point of contention during a press conference, Pompeo urged Russia to end its support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, adding: "We want Venezuela to get their democracy back."

Maduro has "brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people," Pompeo told reporters while sitting alongside Lavrov. "We hope that Russia's support for Maduro will end."

Lavrov fired back by saying that "threats by the US administration" against Venezuela's leadership have "nothing to do with democracy." US intervention for "democracy" in Iraq and Libya in the 2000s has "brought nothing good," Lavrov said.

Russia has sent military advisers to Venezuela in recent months as the economically ruined South American country teeters on the verge of civil war.

Pompeo also noted that the US would not tolerate Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election, saying that would further damage relations.

Lavrov rejected the allegation.

Putin likewise pointed out that US special counsel Robert Mueller "conducted an impartial investigation and confirmed the absence of all sorts of traces and any kind of collusion between Russia and the current administration, something we initially described as utter nonsense."

Russia's relations with the US were damaged by the allegations, Putin said, according to comments carried by state news agency TASS.

"I hope that today the situation is changing," Putin said.

Pompeo assured he was visiting because US President Donald Trump is "committed to improving this relationship."

"We are not adversaries on every issue," Pompeo said, recalling personal experience in joint counterterrorism work with Russia that has "saved American lives and saved Russian lives."

Pompeo had initially intended to come to Moscow on Monday but cancelled that leg of his journey, instead going to Brussels to meet US allies about "recent threatening actions" by Iran, the State Department said.

Iran, a Russian ally, announced last week it was partially withdrawing from a 2015 agreement intended to prevent it from building a nuclear bomb after the US exited the deal.

Iran's leadership suggested it would commence uranium enrichment unless crippling economic sanctions against the country were removed.

Lavrov, who met Iran's top diplomat in Moscow as the Iranian announcement was made, blamed the US for the deal falling apart, saying the "unacceptable situation" has emerged "because of the United States' irresponsible behavior."

The US has "abandoned its commitments enshrined in the relevant UN Security Council resolution," Lavrov said at the time in comments carried by TASS.

Lavrov and Pompeo had met earlier that week in Finland on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting. Lavrov described those talks as constructive, according to televised comments.

Russia's Foreign Ministry expressed hope ahead of Pompeo's trip to Sochi that the US diplomat would be ready to "inspect the wreckage" of US-Russian relations.

Relations between the former Cold War rivals in recent years have wallowed at their lowest point since the Soviet era as they support opposing sides in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.


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