US President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to rein in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his key ally Iran, as Washington and Moscow sought to boost their fragile ties with high-profile White House talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the highest-ranking Russian official to visit Washington since Trump came to power in January, earned a rare invitation to the Oval Office for a head-to-head with the Republican president.
Before visiting the White House, Lavrov huddled with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss the crisis in Syria and Ukraine — talks qualified by the veteran Russian diplomat as “constructive.”
The meetings were nevertheless somewhat overshadowed by the uproar in Washington over Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey — the man who was leading a probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election.
“We had a very, very good meeting” Trump said shortly after seeing Lavrov. “We’re going to stop the killing and the death (in Syria).”
The Republican leader nevertheless told Lavrov that Moscow should “rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies,” the White House said.
Lavrov, who came to Washington seeking US support for a Russian plan to create safe zones in Syria, said “concrete mechanisms that we can manage together” were discussed.
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“Today, we have a common understanding that, as active players in the diplomatic process regarding Syria, we are going to pursue these contacts together and with other key countries, especially those in the region,” he said.
Trump’s critics cried foul over the White House invitation to Lavrov, whose government stands accused by US intelligence agencies of interfering in the November election, which Trump won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.