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Arms control on tap for Trump, Pompeo's meeting with Lavrov

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arms control, Ukraine and Syria are headlining the meetings that President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have Tuesday with Russia's foreign minister, who is making his first trip to Washington since May 2017.

Sergey Lavrov's visit, however, was overshadowed by the introduction of Ukraine-related impeachment articles by the House and Trump's complaints about an internal Justice Department watchdog's finding that the FBI was justified in opening an investigation into ties between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Lavrov met Pompeo first at the State Department, where the two men are having lunch and will hold a joint news conference. Neither man spoke to reporters as he posed for photographs at the start of their talks.

The pair will then make the short trip to the White House, where they will meet with Trump. The last such meeting took place shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a move that the Republican president later said was made because of the Russia investigation.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump attacked Comey's replacement, Christopher Wray, whom he handpicked for the job, for agreeing with the inspector general's conclusion that the Russia probe was not politically motivated. Trump repeatedly has alleged that it was.

Meanwhile, House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump, accusing him of abusing his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine unless its new leader pledged to investigate the son of his political rival Joe Biden and obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate with the inquiry. Trump has denied doing anything wrong.

Although the impeachment inquiry centers on Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists in its east, Russia has been a major topic in the proceedings. Numerous witnesses told investigators that Trump's defenders are echoing a Russian disinformation campaign by accusing Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election ahead of the 2020 election.

Ahead of the White House meeting, lawmakers urged Trump to warn Lavrov against a repeat of the 2016 interference. Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump should “inform them if you do anything in our election in 2020 their relationship is going to be over in a permanent way. Call Russia out for what they're doing, inside of Syria, try to get them to stop being so disrupted in Syria.”

“It's OK to talk with the Russians. But when you talk with the Russians, you better tell them the truth about who they are and what they're doing. They're one of the most destructive forces on the planet right now, and we need to call them out,” Graham said.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., expressed doubt that Trump would demand accountability from the Russians. “President Trump’s pattern of cozying up to autocrats and our adversaries harms American interests and undermines American leadership," he said. “While dialogue with the Russians is important, especially for strategic stability and the future of arms control, I have no confidence in President Trump to defend our interests in these conversations.”

Lavrov arrived in Washington after a meeting in Paris on Monday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, along with the French and German leaders, at which they agreed to revive the peace process on the bloody separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and exchange all their prisoners.

But they failed to resolve crucial issues such as a timeline on local elections and control of the borders in the rebel-held region. Still, Russian and Ukrainian officials on Tuesday described the talks as a step toward peace and pledged to continue negotiations.

On Monday, Pompeo told One America News Network that Trump had asked him to work on the U.S.-Russia business relationship and that he and Lavrov also will discuss arms control issues that hopefully can be expanded to include China.

“We didn't pick this date to coincide with the process on Capitol Hill, but we can’t allow the zaniness that’s taking place on Capitol Hill to impact our job,'' Pompeo said.

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