Pompeo, Russian FM to meet as Venezuela spat intensifies

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet next week with Russia’s foreign minister as a dispute between Washington and Moscow over Venezuela intensifies, a senior US official said Thursday.

Pompeo and Sergey Lavrov will resume an as-yet unproductive discussion on Venezuela when they are both in Rovaniemi, Finland, for a meeting of foreign ministers from the eight members of the Arctic Council on Monday and Tuesday, the official said.

US concerns about Russian “behavior” elsewhere, including in Ukraine, will be on the agenda, according to the official who was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two men traded warnings over the situation in Venezuela in a Wednesday telephone call that Lavrov described as having “surreal” elements.

The Trump administration accuses Moscow of propping up embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro over opposition figure Juan Guaido, who Washington regards as the country’s legitimate leader.

Pompeo said Tuesday that Maduro had been prepared to leave Venezuela for Cuba amid Guaido-led protests supported by the US but changed his mind after being convinced by Russia to stay.

Lavrov, speaking on Thursday in Uzbekistan, said Pompeo’s allegation was untrue.

“Pompeo phoned, called for us to refuse to support Maduro, called for Cuba and us not to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela,” Lavrov said in Tashkent. “The whole story sounds quite surreal. If you count up all that official representatives of the American administration say about Venezuela, then you can pose questions endlessly and to all these questions the answer will be, to put it diplomatically: it’s untrue.”

The State Department and Russia’s Foreign Ministry each put out accounts of the Wednesday phone call that accused the other of destabilizing Venezuela.

The Russian statement, which was issued first, said Guaido had attempted to seize power with “the clear support of the United States” and that the US threat to Maduro was “a gross violation of international law.” It added that Lavrov had warned Pompeo that “the continuation of aggressive steps is fraught with the most serious consequences.”

Shortly thereafter, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus released a statement saying that Pompeo in the call had “stressed that the intervention by Russia and Cuba is destabilizing for Venezuela and for the US-Russia bilateral relationship.”

Pompeo “urged Russia to cease support for Nicolas Maduro and join other nations, including the overwhelming majority of countries in the Western Hemisphere, who seek a better future for the Venezuelan people.”

Neither statement made mention of next week’s meeting in Finland.

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