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Leonid Slutsky: “Not a breakthrough, but a rapprochement”

The first talks between the new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow unambiguously brought certain results for the development of Russian-American relations at their current stage.

And the main result can be called the failure of forecasts that the US will talk with Russia “the language of ultimatums”. On the eve of the visit of the head of US diplomacy to Moscow, the information field was dominated by rather harsh rhetoric, including by serious Western politicians. But at the official level, there were no ultimatums. On the contrary, an agreement was reached to set up a working group to resolve the most difficult issues in Russian-American cooperation, and at the final joint press conference with Sergei Lavrov, Rex Tillerson said that Russia and the United States must do everything to restore confidence and stop degradation in the relations between the two nuclear powers. And this is extremely important for the continuation of the dialogue.

According to Sergei Lavrov, the two sides understood each other better. This is natural, because there was no direct dialogue at such a high level between representatives of the new US administration and Russia. And this is very important in diplomacy: to look into each other’s eyes, listen and speak, realizing that this is not a rally and not a statement for the press, but, so to speak, working material that is the basis for further negotiations, and, in general, bilateral relations. This is important for mutual understanding and respect.

At the same time, the head of our state confirmed Russia’s desire to solve numerous problems existing in Russian-American relations.

It is in this context that the decision to appoint special representatives from the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, charged with analyzing the existing problems in the relations between the two countries, will receive the highest priority. And I’m not afraid to assume that in the near future this will be able to be transformed into a permanent commission to resolve bilateral problems and agree on interests. We hope that these meetings will serve to further establish the construct in Russian-American relations and, first of all, in cooperation on the Syrian dossier and on confronting international terrorism.

But at the same time I would not feel excessive optimism and call the meetings and negotiations of Rex Tillerson in Moscow breakthrough. They could not be breakthroughs – too many divergences of opinion are shared by both sides.

In particular, as Sergey Lavrov acknowledged, the positions of Moscow and Washington have seriously disagreed on the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The US continues to insist that Asad used chemical weapons for the population. True, the American side still does not present any real evidence of this. For his part, Foreign Minister Lavrov confirmed that the incident with the chemical attack in Syria should be impartially investigated by international organizations and Moscow insists on such an investigation. And he will make unpleasant conclusions for the West, if he does not.

But now it is not this divergence in positions that is important, but the fact that the sides held talks in the real dialogue mode, especially against the background that preceded the visit. And there is a feeling that they have heard each other.

I also consider this step as a confirmation of Russia’s readiness to resume the Memorandum on the prevention of incidents in the sky over Syria. It turns out that, despite disagreements on many issues, Russia and the United States remained united in the opinion that terrorism must be fought by all means.

Negotiations on the situation around the DPRK also did not have any special breakthroughs, but most importantly, the very conversation on this topic allowed the parties to consider it from the opposite point of view. And if you do not stop, then slow the spinning of the flywheel of confrontation. In addition, Russia and the United States had no fundamental differences in the DPRK’s nuclear and missile program, and both states are in agreement in this regard with regard to Pyongyang’s demands to halt the development. Of course, this can only be achieved through peaceful, diplomatic means, and the “carrier-related fists” will only exacerbate the situation.

Thus, if we do not fall into too much optimism or excessive pessimism, but keep a sober and pragmatic view of things, we can state that the talks were productive. President Trump also said this, noting that Tillerson had a “very successful meeting in Russia.” In his opinion, “everything went pretty well, maybe even better than expected.”

This is indeed so. Because very many predicted only a strengthening of confrontation between Russia and the United States. But in fact it turned out if not the rapprochement, then at least the movement in this direction. And, perhaps, one of the indicators of this movement were the words of Donald Trump that it is difficult, but not impossible, to imagine peaceful Syria with Assad in power.

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