SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome. Welcome, Sergey.
Before I recap the meeting that I had with Foreign Minister Lavrov and his team, I want to note that recently the Trump administration has taken actions against multiple human rights violators. It’s only appropriate I mention them on International Human Rights Day, which we celebrate today. These actions extend the Trump administration’s commitment to hold individuals accountable for gross human rights abuses all around the world. I’ll speak more about that tomorrow.
Now turning to our meeting. Last May, at President Trump’s request, I made a trip to Russia to meet with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. The reason was pretty straightforward. We should have a better relationship – the United States and Russia – than we’ve had in the last few years, and we’ve been working on that since that moment. Our bilateral ties are, of course, complicated. We cooperate in some areas; in other places, we compete.
Over the course of my visit, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I agreed to continue the hard work that diplomats engage in. We agreed to keep our lines of communications open and to keep our conversations candid as well.
Our talks today continued that. We touched on counterterrorism, counternarcotics. Our intelligence and law enforcement professionals cooperate in these areas on a daily basis and will keep doing so, and we’ll aim to make that cooperation even more refined and better.
On Syria, we are committed to working though UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to find a political solution to the crisis there in Syria. I think we agree that there’s no military solution and we both want to ensure that Syria never again becomes a safe haven for ISIS and other terrorist groups.
That same thing goes for Afghanistan as well, and we worked – talked about the cooperation that our two countries have had on the issues that face us in Afghanistan.
Today, too, we agreed on the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as our joint objective. I raised the importance of sanctions enforcement with Foreign Minister Lavrov today.
These are all good, positive areas where our two countries have cooperated and will continue to do so. There are other places where there are greater challenges.
Venezuela is one of them. The longer that Nicolas Maduro hangs on to power, the deeper the misery of the Venezuelan people. We’ve asked the Russian Government to support the aspiration for democracy and the legitimacy of Interim President Juan Guaido and the call that we have made for free and fair presidential elections.
We also spent a fair amount of time talking about Ukraine. It was a major part of our conversations. Foreign Minister Lavrov just returned from Paris, where President Putin and President Zelensky had substantive conversations. I’m proud of what this administration has done in the defense of that country’s sovereignty and security. I reiterated to Foreign Minister Lavrov that Crimea belongs to Ukraine and that the resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine begins with adherence to commitments made under the Minsk agreements.
President Trump, too, is eager to pursue arms control with Russia and with China, and we talked about that at great length today. It has to be verifiable, enforceable, and include all the partners who have the ability to impact strategic security around the world.
And then, too, I had the chance to raise the issue of U.S. citizens like Paul Whelan who have been detained in Russia. Bringing home our citizens abroad as soon as possible is one of President Trump’s highest priorities. We had a success this past weekend.
And then on the question of interference in our domestic affairs, I was clear it’s unacceptable, and I made our expectations of Russia clear. The Trump administration will always work to protect the integrity of our elections, period. Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response.
And finally, I want the Russian people to know that the sanctions the United States has leveraged – levied on Russian individuals and entities are in no way targeted at the Russian people. We have no quarrel with law-abiding citizens, and we’ll keep working on the diplomatic level to get this relationship right.
I want to thank you, Sergey, Foreign Minister Lavrov, for coming to Washington. I look forward to our continuing conversations in the future. Thank you, sir.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, first and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to Secretary Pompeo for the opportunity to meet here in Washington. We have accepted the invitation to visit the United States as a response visit after Secretary Pompeo traveled to the Russian Federation, to Sochi in May this year.
There was a meeting with the president of the Russian Federation as well as our meaningful and rather lengthy negotiations. We meet each other regularly and we regularly talk on the phone when necessary. Today’s meeting has confirmed that it is useful to talk to each other. However difficult this period in our relation is, and including the global affairs, talking to each other is always better than not talking to each other.
We have thoroughly discussed the bilateral situation in our affairs. We spoke about strategic stability, arms control, and we spoke frankly and businesslike. We’re trying not only to hear – not only to listen to each other, but to hear each other. It’s an open secret that we have different views on different things, and it would be naive to think that overnight we could achieve mutual understanding on key issues, but I believe that was always so till – more or less. There is no 100 percent coincidence in positions, and the diplomacy is basically trying to find solutions that would not infringe on vested interests of each other’s side, but that would allow to avoid conflicts and, rather, promote constructive cooperation.
Indeed, we agree with our American partners, just like Mike has just said. The situation, when two leading major nuclear powers have accumulated differences, that is not acceptable. It does not benefit our countries or the international community. That creates additional tension in global arena and in the world on the whole. So, we will continue our dialogue. We have reciprocal intent to do that, and we have opportunities how to normalize our bilateral relations.
We understand that our joint work was hindered and continues to be hindered by the wave of suspicions that has overcome Washington. We have highlighted once again that all speculations about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the United States are baseless; there are no facts that would support that. We did not see these facts. No one has given us this proof because, simply, it does not exist.
I’d like to remind you that when the first statements on this topic began, that was on the eve of the presidential election in 2016. We used the channels that existed back then between Moscow and Washington, together with Barack Obama. We have asked many times our American partners about the opportunity to deal with these suspicions that were expressed in October 2016, all the way up to President Trump’s inauguration. There was no response. All our appeals – when we were saying if you suspect us of something, please put the facts down on the table; let’s discuss it. It had zero response. So all that continued after the inauguration of the new administration, after the inauguration of President Trump.
We suggested to our colleagues that in order to dispel all suspicions that are baseless, let us publish this closed-channel correspondence starting from October 2016 till November 2017 so it would all become very clear to many people. However, regrettably, this administration refused to do so. But I’d like to repeat once again we are prepared to do that, and to publish the correspondence that took place through that channel would clear many matters up, I believe. Nevertheless, we hope that the turbulence that appeared out of thin air will die down, just like in 1950s McCarthyism came to naught, and there’ll be an opportunity to go back to a more constructive cooperation.
Incidentally, we have offered multiple times, and we reminded about that today, to put on paper the mutual obligations on noninterference in domestic affairs of each other, using the example of the exchange of personal notes that took place in 1933, when diplomatic relations were re-established between the United States and the USSR. President Roosevelt suggested, the American side suggested, and we agreed to do that, to exchange letters between President Roosevelt and our Minister of Foreign Affairs Litvinov – to put it on paper this obligation not to allow for any interference in domestic affairs of each other. That was the initiative of the American side, and we are prepared to do something similar at this point in time, at this very crucial stage.
We agreed that it would be incorrect to put our relations on hold, to pause them, or to postpone our interaction on topical issues of modern times. We are prepared to do practical work on the whole range of issues that are of mutual interest. And we are prepared to do so with that level of intensity that is convenient today for our American partners.
One of the central topics of our discussion was strategic stability. We have directed the attention of our partners at the negative consequences of the U.S. stepping out of the INF Treaty, and we have highlighted once again that in these conditions, after this treaty stopped existing, we’re interested in not letting this theme out of our visors. And we suggested – President Putin suggested to the U.S. and other partners as well, and Russia is – that Russia is announcing a unilateral moratorium on deploying such missiles and they will not be deployed up until then and in those regions, up until the point where the similar systems appear, the American systems appear.
That suggestion was made to our Western partners, including the U.S., for such a moratorium to become mutual. This offer remains on the table.
We also spoke about the destiny of yet another treaty that is still not expired, and it will expire automatically in February 2021. I mean the New START Treaty. Russia has reconfirmed its offer already now to make the decision to extend this treaty. President Putin has expressed this position, reconfirmed it in his public speech.
We are also confirming our proposal to yet again use the example of the USSR and the U.S. to make a statement at the level of presidents about unacceptability of certain nuclear war. This suggestion is also on the table.
As for global affairs, we spoke about the Ukraine. I have briefed thoroughly Secretary Pompeo and his delegation about yesterday’s discussions in Normandy Four format in Paris about the decisions made there and about those issues that have yet to be settled in order to move on fully towards full observance of Minsk agreements. And it is of principal importance that the outcome document that the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany have endorsed reconfirms the inviolability of the Minsk agreement and requires their full observance. That is 100 percent our position.
We also spoke about the need to continue our discussion about the paths how to overcome the crisis around Iranian nuclear program. You are well aware of our position. We believe it is necessary to do everything in our power to save JCPOA in order to ensure the peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear research. Naturally, we are very concerned about the situation that is taking place in the Persian Gulf in the Strait of Hormuz, and we also promote for all countries that want to ensure its security and safety of navigation would review the Russian proposal. We’ve suggested to begin a dialogue about creating a system of collective security around the Gulf.
At the level of the political scientists, experts, and scientific community, we have held a special seminar in Moscow. Many countries of the region, including the Arab states of the Persian Gulf that have taken part in that as well as a number of European scientists. We have also invited U.S. representatives and we hope that next time they will take part in such an event.
As Secretary Pompeo has said, we spoke about the situation around Venezuela. Russia consistently promotes the idea that it should be Venezuelan-led and the people should define their future, and those sprouts of dialogue that were first seen in the Oslo format that unfortunately is in limbo right now, and that dialogue that we are seeing in the roundtable in between the moderate opposition and the government would yield the necessary result and the crisis will be settled through peaceful means only.
We spoke about the situation in the Korean Peninsula. We are promoting denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and against that backdrop we see that we believe the contacts between the U.S. and DPRK are very important. We hope that the position that we have also discussed with Secretary Pompeo, the position of Russia and China – we are coordinating our approaches with China on these matters – that will be useful in order for Washington to define their future path considering the current stalemate in the negotiation process. We believe that in order to get out of this impasse it is necessary to move forward with reciprocal measures, measure for measure, and we are prepared to actively aid on this track in order to overcome the current situation.
We spoke about Syria. Resolution 2254 encompasses all frameworks that need to define the movement forward toward the settlements in all aspects. We have highlighted the need for the cooperation between Russia and the U.S. and as well as other stakeholders in order to finally eliminate terrorism on Syrian territory, in order to solve humanitarian issues, as well as a need for a sustainable, constructive political process that was – that has begun in Geneva within the Constitutional Committee where the Syrian sides have to agree about the future of their country.
We spoke about other hotbeds of tension in the Middle East and north of Africa. There are many of them there. In particular, I believe we have mutual interest about – on closer cooperation on the Libyan settlement. We are cooperating on the situation around Yemen, and of course, it is very important to keep in our eyesight the Palestinian-Israeli settlement that is apparently stalling and it is in critical condition.
We also spoke about our bilateral affairs, as I have already said. Presidents of the U.S. and Russia, back in the – during the summit in Helsinki in 2018 and later at their meeting in Osaka in June this year, have agreed about a whole number of specific steps. And one – as one of the results, there is renewed counterterrorism dialogue. It took place one year ago, and several rounds have already taken place. That allows for a more efficient fight against this scourge, both for Russia, the U.S., and as well as global community. We expect that this format will remain an intensive exchange, and now we have Mr. John Sullivan, and it will be a change of leadership there. He’ll be taking place – taking part in hearings in Senate about his appointment to the Russian Federation. We know him as a very highly professional diplomat; we’ll be happy to cooperate with him. Naturally, we believe that our ambassador to Washington would also receive the same level of support.
As for economy, despite the sanctions that, as it is well known, do not benefit anyone, the trade during President Trump’s residing, we had continued growth from $20 million – billion. That was President Obama’s level. Now President Trump, as of this year, have helped reach the level of 27 billion. That’s more – around one-third of growth. That means more jobs in both countries. That means more profit for producers. Now I believe that if this cooperation would gain additional impetus, then the results would be even more mutually beneficial.
We have agreed to continue to find paths in order to alleviate certain triggers in bilateral sphere. Therefore, I mean the situation with the arrest of Russian citizens abroad, the visa situation, both for our delegations that take part in international events on the U.S. territory as well as for diplomats, as well as the situation with diplomatic property. We have agreed that our deputies will continue specific discussions on all these issues, that we want to make them constructive and yield results, what’s most important.
In the end, I’d like to say that with all difficulties and differences, there is great potential for our cooperation in economy and in other spheres as well, and it is in the interest of both countries to tap into that potential fully and to develop our relations to the benefit of our countries and the whole global community. That is our intent, and today we have felt that there is a reciprocity, the same commitment of the American side. I am thankful to Mike Pompeo, would like to continue this dialogue, and I would like to invite him to visit Russia when it is possible.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks for the invitation. Please.
MS ORTAGUS: We’ll start with Rich Edson, Fox News.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. On North Korea and your discussions with North Korea, are you satisfied with Russian and other countries’ sanctions enforcement? And then also within the past week, North Korea has warned of a “Christmas gift” for the United States. Is the administration prepared or expect North Korea to return to a more aggressive posture, perhaps want to terminate negotiations?
Foreign Minister Lavrov, in your discussions over Paul Whelan, are the U.S. and Russia any closer to resolving that case? Is Paul Whelan any closer today to freedom? And also, Mr. Foreign Minister, do you believe that Ukraine meddled in the U.S. election in 2016, and is that specifically something that you discussed with the Secretary today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. With respect to North Korea, we have worked with the Russians on enforcement. I’ve told Foreign Minister Lavrov repeatedly that we appreciate the enforcement level that they have. They’ve done good work. These are UN Security Council resolutions; these aren’t American sanctions per se. These are all driven by the UN Security Council resolutions that the Russians voted for themselves. There’s always more work to be done on enforcement. There’s a major event on the 22nd of December where every nation is required to have all North Korean workers out of their country. We talked about that today and the importance – there are many North Korean workers that have been in Russia. The UN Security Council resolution requires them to depart. We’re hopeful that they will be able to complete that and come into full compliance with that.
As for our expectations with respect to North Korea’s behavior, I think President Trump’s been unambiguous about our expectation. Chairman Kim personally made the commitment to denuclearize; said there wouldn’t be long-range missile tests, nuclear tests. All of those are commitments that we are very hopeful that the North Koreans will continue to abide by. We continue to work to try and develop places where we can communicate, negotiation mechanisms where we can talk to them about paths forward to achieve the denuclearization that both Foreign Minister Lavrov and I are determined to help the North Koreans achieve. It’s a place where we have overlap on our objective. We need to jointly figure out a way together to assist the North Koreans to get there so that North Korea can and the North Korean people can have the brighter future that President Trump has spoken so often about.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) As for North Korea, I would like to add a few words on that. You asked whether the U.S. is satisfied with the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea, the sanctions by the UN Security Council. (Inaudible) sanctions are an instrument that is being used by the UN Security Council. However, that resolution does not deal only with sanctions. They also include the need to engage more actively in political process, and that has often been lost.
Now, these efforts to cover the current situation – we’re convinced that this political process needs to be actively supported and a key role is being played by the direct dialogue between the U.S. and Pyongyang, and we promote the re-establishment of this dialogue. We’re positive that this dialogue can yield result only in the case when it follows the idea of reciprocal steps. You cannot demand North Korea to do everything and right now and only then go back to ensuring its security and lifting the sanctions and the rest of all of it. The humanitarian situation in North Korea requires urgent steps that would allow to understand the capability of the global community not only to deal with the resolutions, but also the preparedness of the global community to respond to absolutely legitimate economic and humanitarian needs of North Korea.
Right now, those goods that are not being covered by any sanctions, neither the UN sanctions nor the U.S. sanctions, are very hard to deliver to North Korea because producing companies as well as transportation companies are afraid. They’re simply afraid that for only mentioning that they had certain – even though legitimate business, but business with North Korea, they can be punished again. This situation has brought us to that impasse where we are at right now, and we call upon the North Korean leadership to show restraint, of course, and we expect that the conditions will be created for the renewal of this dialogue.
As for Paul Whelan, back in September the investigation has stopped and he has time to acknowledge himselves – to acquaint himselves with the accusations, and now, together with his lawyers, he is studying these documents. After that, the court process will proceed, and that would put an end to this case. And after that, using bilateral documents that we have between us – the official documents in law enforcement sphere – we can make these or that decisions.
I’d like to highlight that a lot is being talked about the health of Paul Whelan, and we treat this issue with all seriousness. Our doctors examine him regularly. He was complaining of groin hernia. We suggested to operate on that; he decided not to do that. I’d like to highlight once again that Paul Whelan – maybe this tactic chosen by his lawyers is – now it’s – he’s threatening the penitentiary officers and he makes all kinds of arrogant accusations. And, for example, he’s saying that he’ll put a drill to the head of the officer. Maybe if these tactics of the lawyers are aimed at – to create an image of a martyr, maybe that is not a correct one, not a correct approach and not an honest one. I’d like to repeat again: We are acting in full compliance with our law and those international norms that can be applied in this case.
As for Ukraine and elections in the United States in 2016, it has nothing to do with us. That is an issue for two sovereign states. However, that allows to understand the absurdity of accusations against us that were saying that we ostensibly interfered in the elections. We propose to publish the correspondence about – and I spoke about that. We are prepared to do that as soon as Washington confirms their agreement to publish these important documents that are important for the community.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you so much. Elena Chernenko, Kommersant newspaper. A question for both colleagues: Did it become any clearer the destiny of the New START Treaty? Will it be extended? And a clarification for Mr. Lavrov: What do you think about the American argument that there is a need to engage China? Is it indeed a sincere desire to engage China in negotiations, or, as it’s called here, red herring, trying to find reason not to extend this treaty?
Now to Secretary Pompeo: Clarify, please, how the U.S. intend to engage China in this negotiation considering, sir, disbalance in this sphere between different states?
And if you’d allow, yet another question to Mr. Pompeo from a different sphere: Why the U.S. refuse to give green light to publishing the materials that Russian minister spoke about, the correspondence between the White House and the Kremlin about interference in elections? As far as I understand, this correspondence took place in the Fall of 2016 and in the Winter of 2017.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Well, since we’re talking about the extension of New START Treaty, I’d like to say that, as I have already said in my initial remarks, Russian president spoke again about Russia’s preparedness to right now agree on its extension in order to alleviate the tension for global community, considering that the last instrument of arms control between the U.S. and the Russian Federation will be – well, not destroyed, but it will just not be in force anymore. And we are prepared to do that even today, and the ball is in our American partner’s court.
As for China, the president spoke about that multiple times. If China is prepared to engage in that, to join that, we’ll support such an approach, and in that case, we’ll need to look at other nuclear powers, both official and unofficial. China spoke clearly that they will not take part in any negotiations, because neither on the number or the structure of their nuclear arsenal they’re not on par with Russia and the U.S. We spoke about that today. We looked at the statistics provided by the Swedish research for peace provided on China, on Chinese nuclear arsenal in comparison with Russian and the U.S. arsenal. And of course, we are talking about big figures and big difference in figures.
Of course, if China is prepared to do that, we are prepared to review a multilateral process in nuclear disarmament. Nevertheless, as President Putin has said to Secretary Pompeo in Sochi in May this year, this situation naturally requires negotiations because there is no specific offer on the table by our American partners. And it will take some time, and in the meantime, in order to create a vacuum for U.S. and Russia – still major nuclear powers – could talk about extension of the New START Treaty and calm down the international (inaudible), that’ll be good.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll take your second question, then I’ll return to the important conversation on our strategic dialogue, strategic arms control.
We’ll publish all the documents we think appropriate. We think we’ve shared plenty of facts to show what happened in the 2016 election with our Russian counterparts. We don’t think there’s any mistake about what really transpired there.
As for strategic arms control, your question was about New START in particular, but, of course, it can’t be the case that that can be the sole focus. That’s an agreement that was entered into many years ago when powers were very different on a relative basis around the globe. It was at a time when the weapon systems, the threats were very different than they are today too. The risks to strategic instability today are different. It’s no longer just missiles, just bombers, just submarines, just warheads. There are many other tools which can create strategic instability.
So we believe not only do the conversations need to be broadened to include the Chinese Communist Party, but they need to be broadened as well to encompass the full range of instruments of power that can create the very strategic instability that New START, the INF, the full range of agreements that had been entered into decades ago presented to the world. That’s our objective. It’s our joint objective. I think we have to get it right.
Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about the fact that China has fewer of some of those weapon systems today; that’s an accurate statement, but to enter into these conversations doesn’t necessarily mean that we would cap any one country at any particular level. The objective isn’t about that. It’s about developing a set of conditions which create the very stability for the security of both our people, the people of the United States, the people of Russia, people all around the world are demanding from a good strategic dialogue. And so I hope that we can commence this. I hope we can begin to move forward in a way that is constructive, all the relevant parties talking about all the relevant threats to strategic stability around the world. And if we can do that, I’m confident that we can make real progress together. Thank you for your question.
MS ORTAGUS: John Hudson, Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I understand everything that you laid out about the importance of having China in those discussions. Would you – if it doesn’t pan out given the objections that Minister Lavrov pointed out that the Chinese have, would you be willing to go forward and – anyway and maybe secure – look towards securing a limited extension of New START without the Chinese?
And on impeachment, the Democrats obviously unveiled their articles of impeachment, which – and the Democrats have accused your building of resisting oversight efforts and taking part and abetting in the alleged quid pro quo. Do you have any response to that?
Minister Lavrov, has there been any progress on establishing a U.S.-Russia business council? And, as you mentioned, you would like to see the U.S. come forward with information about election meddling. Why not just read the Mueller report? It’s very detailed when it comes to U.S. allegations related to meddling in the 2016 election.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So if I may take your second question first, your second question about congressional oversight. State Department has fully complied with all legal requirements. We will continue to do so. We had a number of officers testify. We’ve asked every officers who moves forward, who testifies under oath, to do so fully, completely, accurately, truthfully, and that remains the expectation that I have for both the officers of the State Department as well as for the things that we do to produce documents in response to appropriate congressional oversight. We will continue to do that. We’ll continue to comply with every legal, constitutional requirement that is presented to us to make sure that we do the right thing by the Legislative Branch and keep the appropriate balance between the Executive and Legislative Branches. I think we’ve done that to date and I expect that we will continue to do that in the days and weeks ahead.
And your second question was a smaller question about New START, a more narrow question about New START, would we proceed without China. The answer to that is simply this: Do we believe that there is a situation that we can get to, a conclusion that we might get to just between the United States and Russia that improves strategic stability – that is, from where we sit today, can we move forward? Can we make it even more – I guess with the expiration of New START, even keeping it at the level that we have today? There is real concern. As weapon systems move and advance, as new countries develop these capabilities, there is real risk that there is a reduction in strategic stability just staying right we are today so that it – the reason that we’re asking for other countries to participate – and Foreign Minister Lavrov suggested France and the United Kingdom join as well. Happy to consider that too. The cumulative mission set has to be global strategic stability, and we will continue to engage in conversations with the Russians and others with the aim of achieving that.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Now, as for meddling or non-meddling, you suggested to simply read the Mueller report. We read it. There is no proof of any collusion, and our suggestion to publish – I’d like to repeat it for the fourth time now – to publish that data that would show how Russia responded through special channel – this is a specially designated channel to review threats in cyber networks – to show how Russia responded, how Russia suggested to discuss this confidentially through this channel, how all these proposals were rejected by Obama’s administration. I think publishing this data will not hinder the transparency, and that would not be bad for Special Counsel Mueller, for his report to reflect the full picture. And of course, that would be interesting for journalists to read. So I’d like to confirm my proposal once again.
And I’d like to add a few words. When Mike was responding to the previous question, he said that a suggestion to widen the circle of those who would talk about arms control or nuclear arms control, the U.S. mean, as he said, a number of conditions, a set of conditions, not the final limits of any participant. And that was the first time that we have clarification by an official representative of the U.S. That is why I have mentioned it will be easier, possibly for us and for other people who the U.S. have in mind, to put this on paper, for it to be formulated, worded in some way.
Yes, we discussed our economic cooperation, including the possibilities how to improve it and in organizational parts and following up on the discussion that our presidents had in Helsinki, in Hamburg, and recently in Osaka.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Just to add there, I think there’ll be, in the not-too-distant future, some significant announcements about economic efforts between our two countries, and we hope to be able to do that before too terribly long.
MODERATOR: (In Russian.)
QUESTION: Mr. Lavrov, (inaudible) Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company. During your recent interview, you said that President Trump asked you to work on improving business relations between the two countries. At the same time, as we know, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on a number of sectors of the economy. And how are you going to improve this relationship according to sanctions? Also, I’d like to ask under what conditions can the sanctions be canceled.
(Via interpreter) Considering that mass expulsion of diplomats that took place a few years ago, it is apparent that it’s harder to work for consular departments of both countries, both in Russia and the U.S. We know that issuing visa is in trouble, also to official delegations. Have you discussed this issue, and how do you plan to rebuild the work of the consulates?
Is the U.S. going to return Russian diplomatic property and what terms it depends? Thank you so much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I suppose I’ll – would you like to go first, Sergey? Go ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Now as for as how meaningful it would be as for efficiency of the work of consular departments, we talked about visas today. However, I’d like to give you some figures. As for U.S. missions in the Russian Federation, there are 155 diplomats more than in our missions that work in bilateral relations, because 155 diplomats is the number of our representatives to the UN and we were bringing the diplomatic levels, bringing them to parity. We decided not to exempt from the overall quota those diplomats who are not active in bilateral relations and moreover they have no right to deal with bilateral relations. So we have 155 diplomats less than the U.S. has in Russia.
Unfortunately, our citizens have to wait a consular interview if they want to receive a visa in Moscow for 300 days; in Vladivostok, it’s about 40 days; in Yekaterinburg, that’s more than 30 days, only to take part in an interview. Our American counterparts explained that as quotas were introduced, all their consular officers have departed.
Now, possibly that’s the right of any country to define the structure of their diplomatic mission. We also had to cut to the bone, and many consular officers have also left. However, in our case, in our situation, there wasn’t a single case that the – it was a longer wait for visa issuance. Visas are provided within the same – with the same deadline as before, before this unpleasant development in our bilateral relations, and believe it is of principal importance, considering the importance of contacts between people, inter-parliamentarian, cultural, sports, and all kinds of exchanges. The easier it is to travel for Russians to meet Americans and vice versa the easier it will be to build our relations, to strengthen our partnership, as I have said have certain perspective.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m going to respond to that just for a moment, and then I’ll answer the questions you presented to me.
Look, we count a little bit differently. Foreign Minister Lavrov gave you some numbers. We – I don’t want to get into the weeds on the numbers, but we measure those numbers of who’s got how many diplomats and visas in a very different way. But what’s important is that we make sure we’re delivering on behalf of each of our two countries in a way that keeps each of our two countries consistent with the Vienna Conventions and consistent with the important relationship between the United States and Russia.
And we’re determined to do that. We talked about that today. There have been conversations among my team and Foreign Minister Lavrov’s team in the last handful of weeks on this very set of issues, and we’re working to make sure that any of the problems we work through we can resolve. I’m very confident the United States consular service is every bit as efficient as the Russian consular service and that we can deliver on behalf of the visa program in a way that’s consistent with the important relationship between our two countries.
You asked me first about the commercial relationship between our two nations. I mentioned a moment ago, in response to a previous question, we hope there’s some significant progress that we can announce here in just the next short period of time about how we would move our economic relationship forward further. Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke about the increase in trade, over 25 percent increase in trade between the United States and Russia over the course of the Trump administration. We hope we can continue to do that.
That’s been done in the face of what are significant sanctions, sanctions that we believe are appropriate given U.S. policy, U.S. law, and the risks that are presented. And so we think we can deliver against each of the twin objectives and that we – and we will continue to do so in a way that’s consistent with our relationship.
Thank you very much for your questions. Thank you, Foreign Minister.