Obama envoy visits Russia amid row
Updated: 2013-04-16 07:57
US President Barack Obama's national security adviser on Monday met with top Russian officials in Moscow, days after the former foes exchanged Cold War-style blacklists in a row over human rights.
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is the highest-ranking official from the United States to visit Russia since Obama's inauguration for a second term in January, but his trip coincides with one of the trickiest moments in US-Russian relations in recent years.
US President Barack Obama's national security adviser Tom Donilon leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, on Monday, after meeting top Russian officials. Yuri Kadobnov / Agence France-Presse
"We understand the importance of US-Russian cooperation for international relations. But removing the problems that have been growing in our ties remains for us priority number one," Lavrov said at a news conference.
The US published a list late on Friday of 18 Russians it is blacklisting over human rights abuses. Russia angrily responded a day later with a similar list of its own.
The US names 16 Russians allegedly linked to the death of jailed lawyer Sergei Magntisky in 2009 and two Chechens who stand accused of murder. They are barred from traveling to the US or holding assets there.
Russia described the move as unfriendly and hit back on Saturday with its own blacklist of 18 US citizens, including several well-known figures linked to detention practices at Guantanamo Bay.
"The first person to feel the effects of Washington's blacklists is going to be T. Donilon. He is not coming to us at the best of times," Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, wrote on Twitter.
Donilon was also to meet with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, but in a sign of the chill in relations, it was not clear whether he would meet with President Vladimir Putin.
Putin's spokesman said the leader might at some point "join in" the discussion between Patrushev and Donilon "if his working schedule allows".
The Kommersant newspaper said the Kremlin's refusal to confirm the meeting is a sign of its irritation with Washington, not just over the blacklists but over the fact Obama had failed to meet Patrushev on one of his visits to Washington.
According to Lavrov, Donilon carried a private message from Obama to Putin.
"I've heard from Tom Donilon and (US Secretary of State) John Kerry that they understand very well the negative effect of a number of factors on the Russia-US relations," Lavrov said.
Lavrov said the US understood the problems' irritating effect on bilateral ties and promised to work on fixing them. "We will judge by acts, not by words," he added.