Pompeo talks tough on Russia as lawmakers seek answers

July 25, 2018 - 12:40 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is taking a tough line on Russia and its actions in Ukraine as skeptical lawmakers are set to demand specifics from him on President Donald Trump's summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

According to a State Department transcript of a television interview released Wednesday before he testifies to Congress, Pompeo said Trump and Putin "didn't find much place to agree" on Ukraine when they met in Finland last week. He said Trump made clear to Putin that the so-called Minsk Accords to settle the Ukraine conflict is the right path forward. He also reiterated U.S. support for an investigation that held Russia responsible for downing a Malaysian airliner over east Ukraine in 2014. Pompeo said what the Russians did was "deeply immoral" and that those responsible for the MH17 disaster should be held accountable.

Pompeo made the comments in a Tuesday interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in California, where he and Defense Secretary James Mattis co-hosted meetings this week with their Australian counterparts. The interview is a likely preview of his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. In the absence of details about Trump and Putin's one-on-one meeting, committee members are seeking answers on what the two leaders may have agreed to Helsinki. The White House and State Department have been vague when pressed for specifics.

In the interview, Pompeo acknowledged that he was not in the room when Trump and Putin met with only interpreters present for nearly two hours in the Finnish capital. But, he said he had a "good understanding" of what took place based on his presence at a larger meeting between the two sides as well as conversations with Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"It was an incredibly constructive engagement for President Trump and President Putin, an important one for the world," Pompeo said. "These are two nuclear superpowers. They ought to be engaged in conversations, and they covered a wide range of topics. They disagreed on many things but also set forward some constructive paths on important topics."

On Ukraine, Pompeo said the differences were sharp.

"The president was strong in making sure that the world understood that the Minsk path is the right path forward," he said. Asked about MH17, in which dozens of Australian passengers were killed, Pompeo called it "a real tragedy." ''What the Russians did there is deeply immoral," he said. "There ought to be accountability."

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