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WHITE HOUSE — President Donald Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday at the White House.
Trump and Lavrov said they discussed the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria and Trump stressed the administration’s commitment to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.
It was Trumps’ first face-to-face meeting with a top-level Russian diplomat since he took office in January.
Following the meeting, Trump said it was “very good.”
“I think that we are going to do very well with respect to Syria, I think things are happening, they are really, really, really positive,” Trump said.
Lavrov said the two leaders spoke mostly about de-escalation zones in Syria. He said the two countries had a “common understanding” regarding the usefulness of de-escalation zones.
“It will be a step to contribute to the settlement of humanitarian problems,” he said during a news conference at the Russian Embassy in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed Lavrov to the State Department earlier Wednesday morning for talks expected to be dominated by the two countries’ differences over Syria and Ukraine.
“I want to welcome the foreign minister to the State Department and express my appreciation for him making the trip to Washington so that we could continue our dialogue and our exchanges that began in Moscow,” Tillerson told reporters.
Tillerson and Lavrov met in Moscow last month, amid tensions over the U.S. bombing of a Syrian airfield after alleged chemical attacks by Syrian forces on civilians, including many children.
Former U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, now with the Atlantic Council research institute, told VOA that the two men will have their work cut out.
“On Syria we both claim to be seeking the same thing, which is an end to the civil war and a transition to some kind of new government acceptable to all the people of Syria. But of course when you get down to the details, we can’t seem to agree on anything,” said Vershbow.
He says the main sticking point remains whether Syria’s future includes President Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. and most other countries say must step down, but Russia supports. Also at issue, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a deal on “de-escalation zones” — or safe zones for Syria civilians —at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan last week. The U.S. only sent an envoy to the talks as an observer.
Tillerson likely will want to learn more about how the zones will be enforced. Vershbow said frequent dialogue between Tillerson and Lavrov on these complex issues is crucial.
“At least Tillerson and Lavrov have developed a working relationship. It was very important that Tillerson also saw President [Vladimir] Putin when he was in Moscow a couple of weeks ago,” said Vershbow.
Some Democratic lawmakers say they are very concerned by the ongoing investigations into Russian hacking and other interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, and possible collusion between members of then-candidate Donald Trump’s team and Russia.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin told VOA he would like Tillerson to convey that concern to Lavrov.
“It was an attack on our country. Russia tried to undermine our free election system; they tried to influence an election in America, that’s a very serious issue,” said Cardin.
“So we want to find out exactly what they were doing and we want to take steps to protect our country and our democratic institutions, and we believe that additional sanctions should be imposed on Russia for this behavior.”
VOA State Department Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report.