Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN – Jerusalem Post

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the pleasant Black Sea resort of Sochi Tuesday, which will be Pompeo’s first visit to Russia in his current role.

He cancelled a May 13 trip to Moscow.

Russia’s TASS news agency says that the talks will focus on Venezuela, the Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA) and two arms treaties.

The meeting comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday about tensions in Syria. The Syrian regime has been striking at Syrian rebel and extremist positions in Idlib, near where Turkish troops are located. Turkey and Russia signed a deal to prevent a Syrian regime offensive in Idlib last September. Turkey is also acquiring Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

The US trip to Russia comes after years of tension over accusations of Russian meddling in the US 2016 elections and also over tensions in Syria and Ukraine. However the elephant in the room today is also the crisis in Venezuela, where the US has accused Russia of backing Nicolas Maduro and encouraging Maduro to stay in power after the US hoped that opposition leader Juan Guaido might come to power last month with backing from the military.

The US is also involved in major tensions with Iran in the Persian Gulf. Russia has opposed US pressure with Iran and has worked alongside Iran in Syria backing the Syrian regime.

Iran is following the Pompeo-Lavrov meeting closely. Lavrov recently met with his Chinese counterpart and Iran’s Tasnim News reported that Lavrov discussed the recent meeting between Pompeo and European officials. Russia says it opposes US “unilateral” steps such as withdrawing from the Iran deal, as the US did last year. Russia claims to be adhering to the Iran deal.

While the US has sought to sanction Iran’s oil trade and reduce it to near-zero, Russia has opposed the pressure on Iran’s oil industry. Press TV in Iran also reports that Russia has supported Iran’s decision to “scale back some of its commitments” under the Iran deal in response to US and European actions.

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