A day after he fired the man leading the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, President Trump had a sitdown in the White House with Russia’s foreign minister.
Trump and Sergey Lavrov “discussed the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria, in particular, underscoring the need for Russia to rein in the Assad regime, Iran and Iranian proxies,” the White House said about the conversation, for which Russian — but not American — reporters were invited in.
The White House synopsis also revealed that Trump “raised Ukraine, and expressed his administration’s commitment to remain engaged in resolving the conflict and stressed Russia’s responsibility” to seek peace.
But it made no mention of the dark clouds over Trump’s presidency: Revelations that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election; the fact that various members of Trump’s campaign and transition team are under federal investigation for possibly aiding in that meddling, and that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, possibly for leading one such investigation.
Also present at the meeting — but not mentioned in the White House release — was Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Kislyak is at the center of the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s potential Russian ties.
Flynn spoke with Kislyak to discuss new U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump was inaugurated and then lied to Vice President Pence about the conversations.
Adding to the cascade of speculation that Trump’s administration has been far friendlier to Russia than it has to various lawmakers and journalists in the U.S., the White House did not allow any American news agencies into Trump’s meeting with Lavrov.
It did, however, allow in a Russian news agency — and the Russian Embassy later tweeted photos of a smiling Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak.
While Trump and Lavrov didn’t discuss matters related to the various ongoing investigations into Russian meddling, according to the White House, news of Comey’s firing the evening before hung thick in the air.
Before meeting with the President, Lavrov sat down with Secretary of State Tillerson — a session that began with reporters shouting questions about Comey.
“Was he fired? You’re kidding, you’re kidding,” Lavrov said sarcastically before directing a dismissive wave at reporters.
Lavrov then sat down with Trump himself inside the Oval Office, as the two nuclear-armed superpowers continue to sort out their unsteady relationship.
Tensions between Russia and the U.S. have reached a post-Cold War high in recent months, amid revelations that Moscow interfered in the election to help Trump.
Relations only worsened in the weeks following Trump’s decision last month to bomb the Syrian airfield where the Bashar Assad regime, a key ally of Moscow, initiated a chemical attack on its own people.
But the latest sessions — coming just a month after Tillerson traveled to Moscow to talk with Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and just a week after Trump and Putin spoke on the phone — could signal an attempt to warm relations between the two countries.