09:03 GMT +319 August 2019
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    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2ndL), Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (3rdR) and others wait for the start of a meeting at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany February 16, 2017.

    Talks Between Lavrov, Tillerson Hint at US-Russia 'Thaw'

    © REUTERS / Brendan Smialowski/POOL
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    On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a meeting in Bonn, Germany. After the resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn, Tillerson will be in charge of Washington’s policy towards Moscow.

    For the first time since his February 1 confirmation, Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. It was also the first meeting between high-profile Russian and US officials since Donald Trump’s inauguration.

    Unofficial sources told the Russian online publication Gazeta.ru that both the Russian and American sides put high hopes on the meeting in Bonn because it was expected to shed some light on the intentions of the new US presidential administration.

    Sources also suggested that during the talks the Russian and US top diplomats may arrange the conditions for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US leader Donald Trump.

    In the beginning of the talks, Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow and Washington had "many issues to discuss" and also an opportunity to "outline parameters" of future work on these issues.

    However, the meeting was also marked with several moments of awkwardness. For example, when Tillerson began to speak, instead of returning the introduction or taking questions on his own, his staffers rushed the journalists out of the room. Lavrov was visibly surprised by this. "Why did you shush them out?" the Russian minister asked.

    Moreover, before the meeting in private began, a journalist asked Lavrov about Russia's stance on the resignation of US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

    "You should know we do not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries," Lavrov replied.

    After the private talks concluded, Lavrov told journalists that he did not discuss with Tillerson a meeting between Putin and Trump and the matter of anti-Russian sanctions.

    In turn, Tillerson said: "The US will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people."

    He also called on Moscow to observe its obligations under the Minsk agreements designed to bring peace to the conflict-ridden region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

    At the Helm of US-Russia Ties

    Previously, both Lavrov and Tillerson have underscored that Moscow and Washington wanted productive cooperation. When Tillerson was nominated for the post Lavrov described him as a man who did not oppose cooperating with Russia.

    The Russian top diplomat also called Tillerson a pragmatic person and expressed hope that his pragmatic approach would contribute to bilateral normalization.

    When Tillerson was appointed US State Secretary Lavrov sent him a congratulatory telegram, saying: "I am hoping for a constructive dialog with you on the whole range of the issues on bilateral and international agenda."

    The meeting in Bonn is especially important, taking into account the fact that Tillerson will be responsible for Washington’s policy towards Russia, according to Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy think-tank.

    "The talks are also important in the context of Michael Flynn’s resignation. Flynn had been the main negotiator on Russia until Tillerson was appointed," Suslov told Gazeta.ru.

    According to the expert, in the new administration Tillerson will be in charge of implementing practical steps in building ties with Moscow.

    Moreover, Suslov noted that the meeting was also important because Moscow and Washington had a chance to outline the entire bilateral agenda.

    "The sides needed to make clear the fields for cooperation and articulate differences and tensions. This was the goal. No one should expect any breakthrough results from such a meeting," the expert pointed out.

    Suslov suggested that the main point the two ministers might have discussed is resumption of practical US-Russia ties.

    "De facto such a thaw has already begun. The first sign is a meeting between Russian and US military chiefs [on February 16, in Baku, Azerbaijan]. But it should be continued. If Lavrov and Tillerson discussed this issue then it would mean their talks were positive," he said.

    Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (File)
    © AP Photo / Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA
    The expert added that currently there are several areas in which Moscow and Washington could work together, including the fight against terrorism, the settlement of the Syrian conflict and the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

    As for the Minsk agreement, according to Suslov, the Trump administration is unlikely to make any concessions to Russia in the near future because the White House is "under constant pressure over its alleged ties to Russia."


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    cooperation, tensions, talks, Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov, Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump, Russia, United States
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