Russia cancels meeting with US on improving relations amid updated sanctions


Posted on: June 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ronniechua/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Russian deputy foreign minister has canceled his meeting with his American counterpart –- a long-planned summit to address more minor problems in the relationship –- because of the updated U.S. sanctions announced Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon is traveling to London on Wednesday, but he will not continue on to St. Petersburg Friday, as previously scheduled. The State Department officially announced his travel Tuesday, seemingly caught off guard by Russia’s cancellation that dealt a serious blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to improve relations.

In a strongly worded statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov said Russia was canceling the meeting because the U.S. ruined the circumstances by announcing updated sanctions this week, and by not returning two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York.

“The new American jab will not go without reaction from our side, including practical reciprocal measures,” he warned.

Rybakov went on to rail against America for the current state of poor relations between the two countries and declare that sanctions will never force Russia to “submit.”

“In the U.S., of course, they can further soothe themselves with the illusions that they can ‘pressure’ Russia. Many previous ‘waves’ of American sanctions have not brought the result on which their initiators counted. Just as futile will be any new attempts to force the Russian side to ‘submit,'” he said.

But the State Department fired back, offering a strong defense of those sanctions, while clarifying that the announcement Tuesday simply brought them up to date without adding anything new. The Treasury Department announced Tuesday that it was adding 38 pro-Russian individuals and entities to existing sanctions against Russia.

“Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere. Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine. If the Russians seek an end to these sanctions, they know very well the U.S. position,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in her own strongly worded statement.

She added that the U.S. remains open to future discussions, but those sanctions will remain until Russia ends its occupation of Crimea and meets its obligations under the Ukrainian peace deal known as the Minsk agreement.

President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been advocating for improving relations with Russia, arguing that the world’s two greatest nuclear powers should not be at odds and that there are areas of common grounds, like fighting ISIS.

The planned meeting between Shannon and Rybakov would have been the second, after a May meeting in New York. The two senior officials were tasked by their bosses, Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to lead a working group to deal with “irritants” in the relationship -– including the Russian diplomatic compounds.

The State Department confirmed earlier this month that returning those compounds would have been part of the discussions at Friday’s summit, despite bipartisan calls on Capitol Hill not to do so. Now, it seems, their return has become more uncertain.

In addition to the current updated sanctions, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill last week that would expand sanctions on Russia and prevent the administration from making changes to any Russian sanctions without Congressional approval. The White House hasn’t said if the president would sign the bill, but the Republican House leadership has held it up, citing a procedural issue that will delay a vote for now.

Tillerson had expressed reservation about the legislation when testifying on the Hill last week, saying he needed “the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue.”

After Russia scrapped Friday’s summit, any sort of dialogue is expected to become more difficult.

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