US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks on Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as their two countries dealt with diplomatic tensions that erupted with the claims of Moscow meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Tillerson said that intervention has led to “serious mistrust” between the two sides.
Tillerson and Lavrov met in the Philippine capital Manila on the sidelines of an Asian regional gathering.
In addition, the US official revealed that he had warned Lavrov that Washington was deciding on a response to the Kremlin’s decision to order a cut in the size of the US mission in Moscow.
“Russian meddling in the elections was certainly a serious incident. We talked about that in the discussion that we had with Mr. Lavrov yesterday,” Tillerson told reporters on Monday.
“And trying to help him understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between the US and the American people and the Russian people, that this had created serious mistrust and that we simply have to find some way to deal with that.”
Russia has furiously denied reports, endorsed by US intelligence agencies, that it attempted to swing last year’s US presidential in favor of the eventual victor, President Donald Trump.
Trump has played down the allegations, but the ongoing controversy cast a pall over already tense ties, which most recently saw President Vladimir Putin order the US diplomatic mission in Moscow cut 755 personnel.
“I told the foreign minister that we have not made a decision about how we would respond to the Russian request to remove US diplomatic personnel,” Tillerson said.
“I asked several clarifying questions, just to describe the thinking behind that diplomatic note that we received, but I told them we would respond by September 1,” he said, referring to Moscow’s deadline to shrink the mission.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump grudgingly signed what he called a “seriously flawed” package of sanctions against Russia. The legislation is aimed at penalizing Moscow for interference in the election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed regime head Bashar Assad.
Lavrov told reporters that despite strained relations with Washington, his country was ready for more engagement with the US on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other pressing matters.
Lavrov said Russia and the US had agreed to resume a suspended high-level diplomatic channel and Washington would send its Ukraine envoy to Moscow for negotiations.
Lavrov’s upbeat assessment came amid what the US has called a diplomatic low point unseen since the end of the Cold War.
“We felt that our American counterparts need to keep the dialogue open,” Lavrov said. “There’s no alternative to that.”
Tillerson added: “The Russians have indicated some willingness to begin to talk with us about the way forward on Ukraine.”
Word that US special representative Kurt Volker plans to visit the Russian capital was the latest sign that Washington is giving fresh attention to resolving the Ukraine conflict.