The Latest: Pence Offers ‘unwavering Support' to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Washington visit of Russian’s top diplomat for meetings with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (all times local):

8:50 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence has expressed the Trump administration’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine’s sovereignty in a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.

A White House statement says Pence met with Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on Wednesday. The meeting came as President Donald Trump met with Klimkin’s Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, drawing widespread condemnation in Europe and the United States.

Trump stressed the need for better relations with Russia during his campaign, which raised concern among Ukrainians that his administration would not stand up for its allies against Russian aggression.

The statement says Pence stressed America’s support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and expressed the need to “peacefully resolve the conflict.”


12:55 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump stressed several issues in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (SEHR’-gay LAHV’-rahf), including ending the civil war in Syria and improving U.S.-Russia relations.

The White House says Trump made clear for the need for Russia to “rein in” the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, along with Iran and its proxies.

Russia and Iran are both aligned with Assad against rebel factions that want to remove Assad from office.

The leaders also discussed Ukraine, and Trump stressed Russia’s responsibility to fully put in place a peace agreement.

The White House says Trump emphasized his desire for better relations with Russia. Trump recently described relations as being at an “all-time low.”


12:50 p.m.

The State Department says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (SEHR’-gay LAHV’-rahf) are affirming their support for U.N.-led talks to resolve the Syrian crisis.

The diplomats met Wednesday in Washington — and there’s a new Russian-led agreement to create safe zones in Syria. The U.S. isn’t a part of that agreement, and has had concerns about the U.N. process being circumvented.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says Tillerson and Lavrov agreed that the U.N. process is “central to international efforts to bring about an enduring resolution.”

Nauert says the leaders also discussed the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. She says Tillerson told Lavrov that sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine will remain in place until Russia changes course.


12:40 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (POO’-tihn) says there “will be no effect” on U.S.-Russian relations in the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Putin was suited up for a hockey game in Sochi, Russia, when a CBS correspondent found him and asked what he thought of President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Putin said: “Your question seems very funny to me. Please don’t be angry with me.” He spoke in Russian and his remarks were translated by his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Putin said Trump “is acting in accordance with his competence.”


12:35 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (SEHR’-gay LAHV’-rahf) says Russia wants the U.S. to play an active role in helping secure four de-escalation zones in Syria. Those zones are envisioned under a deal struck by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Lavrov is speaking in Washington after meeting with President Donald Trump.

The diplomat says it’s in Russia’s interests for the United States to contribute, and that he believes the U.S. is genuinely interested.

Lavrov says that’s especially true regarding a zone in Syria’s south, near the border with Jordan and Israel.

But Lavrov says the countries must work out who will control security around the safe zones. He says he hopes the current “fireworks” will evolve into an acceptable agreement for all sides, including Syria’s opposition.

The U.S. has reacted cautiously to the Russia-led agreement on safe zones.


12:10 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (SEHR’-gay LAHV’-rahf) says it’s “humiliating” for the American people to hear that Russia is controlling the political situation in the United States.

Lavrov is speaking at the Russian Embassy in Washington after meetings with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Lavrov says American politicians who are raising questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election are damaging the U.S. political system by suggesting it’s being controlled by outsiders.

He’s brushing off the questions as “noise” about Russians’ contacts with people in Trump’s campaign. He says through a translator that “there is not a single fact” or piece of compelling evidence proving Russia’s intervention in the election.

Lavrov notes that Trump dismisses the matter as “false news.”

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