Trump to Russian FM: Don't interfere in US elections

Trump also urged Russia to resolve its conflict with Ukraine.

Lavrov and Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
Lavrov and Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Donald Trump warned Russia not to interfere in U.S. elections in talks with Russia's top diplomat on Tuesday, the White House said, after meetings where the two sides made no visible progress on nuclear arms control.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov renewed Moscow's offer to extend the U.S.-Russia New START arms control treaty while Trump stressed his desire for a strategic dialog that includes not only Russia, but also China.

China, which is estimated to have far fewer nuclear weapons than the United States and Russia, has rejected trilateral talks, and some analysts view the U.S. stance as a poison pill designed to kill off the New START treaty.

The 2011 treaty, which requires both sides to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, is scheduled to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for up to five years by mutual consent.

China is estimated to possess about 290 nuclear warheads, according to the Arms Control Association nonprofit group.

The bilateral meetings took place as Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives announced impeachment charges against Trump that accuse him of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to probe a political rival and obstructing the subsequent Congress investigation.

Lavrov's visit also revived questions about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power, and whether it might do so again in 2020. Russia has denied interfering in foreign elections.

"President Trump warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections and urged Russia to resolve the conflict with Ukraine," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement on Trump's Oval Office meeting with Lavrov.

"President Trump also emphasized his support for effective global arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China," the White House spokesman added.

Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo largely stuck to their existing positions as they described their separate talks, which ranged from the alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections to the wars in Ukraine and Syria and North Korea's nuclear program.

At a joint news conference, Pompeo said the United States believed other parties, such as China, needed to be brought in to a wider arms control discussion and said he would consider a Russian proposal to include nuclear powers Britain and France.

"There is real risk that there is a reduction in strategic stability just staying right where we are," Pompeo said, arguing that delivery systems have evolved beyond the missiles, bombers and submarines covered by the New START treaty.

Noting Putin's offer to extend that treaty immediately, Lavrov said: "The ball is in our American partners' court."

Lavrov's last Oval Office meeting in May 2017 turned into a public relations disaster for Trump, who was accused by unnamed U.S. officials of divulging highly classified information during that meeting about a planned operation by the Islamic State militant group. The allegations were denied by the White House.

Trump was also blasted for media reports that he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved him of "great pressure." Comey's dismissal ultimately led to a 22-month investigation by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The inquiry laid bare what Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin's preferred candidate.