U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Russias Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 14 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amid ongoing tensions between Washington and Moscow.
The Sochi talks will be the highest-level of formal discussions held between U.S. and Russian officials since July 2018, when President Donald Trump and Putin held a one-on-one meeting in Finland.
The State Department has said that topics for the Putin-Pompeo talks will include arms control, the crisis in Venezuela, and the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran.
All of those issues are areas where Washington and Moscow are at direct odds with one another.
'The starting point we have to have when we discuss our policy toward Russia...is to acknowledge frankly that Russia has taken a series of aggressive and destabilizing actions on the global stage,' a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters on May 10.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Pompeo's trip was 'an opportunity to make those points clear to the Russian government and what our expectations are and [to] see how to forge a path forward.'
Arms control will be high on the agenda of the talks, in particular an 'arms-control agreement that reflects modern reality,' according to the official.
In February, the United States suspended participation in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of what it says is Russia's development and deployment of a missile system that violates the pact.
Moscow, which denies the accusation, later followed suit.
The INF Treaty banned the United States and Russia from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
Moscow and Washington also have been gearing up for talks on how and whether to extend the New START treaty, the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
It is set to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree.
Trump has called the New START treaty concluded in 2010 by his predecessor, Barack Obama, a 'bad deal' and 'one-sided.'
Trump spoke with Putin by phone last week and said they discussed the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China.
But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who met with Lavrov in Sochi on May 13, said his country isn't interested in negotiating a nuclear arms control treaty with the United States and Russia.
Wang told reporters after the meeting that China 'has no interest' in being part of such a treaty. He said China keeps its arsenal of nuclear weapons at 'the minimal level to ensure the defense policies.'
Pompeo had originally been due to travel to Moscow on May 13 but cancelled that visit to instead discuss Iran with EU and NATO officials in Brussels.
Pompeo shared information on escalating threats from Iran, according to Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran.
'The secretary wanted to share some details behind what we have been saying publicly,' Hook said. 'We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats.'
Hook said Pompeo, while in Brussels, also discussed reported attacks on several oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Hook declined to comment on whether he believed there was the possibility of an Iranian role.
The UAE said on May 12 that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate.
Saudi Arabia on May 13 said that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036