ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Russia's president and foreign minister today in the resort town of Sochi. There is a growing list of issues dividing the two countries - Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, Syria, Venezuela and, with tensions now growing in the Persian Gulf, Iran.
Before the meeting began, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted a phone call he received from President Trump this month. Putin said he hopes the conditions now exist to fully restore relations now that the Mueller investigation is over.
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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) His investigation was objective, and he proved there were no traces - nothing - to show that there was any kind of collusion between Russia and the current administration.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Lucian Kim is in Sochi on the Black Sea and joins us now. Hi, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: President Putin sounded a lot like President Trump there claiming the Mueller report showed no collusion. Of course special counsel Robert Mueller did find that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in support of President Trump. Dozens of Russians have been indicted. Did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bring this up?
KIM: Yes, he did. In fact, he said that if Russia interfered again in the 2020 elections, relations would be in an even worse place than they are now. But it seems that both the Trump administration and the Kremlin see the end of the Mueller investigation as a sort of milestone, that it's now behind them. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Pompeo it's time for what he called a new, more responsible matrix of relations. And Pompeo told Lavrov he had come to Sochi because Trump is committed to a better relationship. And as you mentioned before, I mean, the origin of this meeting today was that phone call that Trump and Putin had.
SHAPIRO: When Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke to reporters, what did they have to say about Iran? The administration has been issuing some ominous warnings about Iran's behavior.
KIM: Well, it's important to remember that Russia is one of the sponsors of the nuclear deal along with China and three European countries - Germany, France and Britain. And this is a very serious agreement that they have. I mean, Russia helped Iran actually build a nuclear power plant.
Pompeo said today that he wants Iran to behave like a normal country. And he did say that the U.S. does not want to have war. The Russians on the other side are insisting on a political solution. Sergey Lavrov said the Middle East is already tense enough and that Russia would continue working with the Europeans and Chinese to get out of this crisis.
SHAPIRO: Another big issue dividing the countries is Venezuela. The U.S. backs opposition leader Juan Guaido. Russia stands by President Nicolas Maduro. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has said Venezuela is in our hemisphere and that Russia should not interfere. What did both sides have to say about that today?
KIM: Well, Pompeo said he urged Russia, in his words, to support the Venezuelan people. He said it was time for Maduro to go, to have free and fair elections. The Russians' argument, on the other hand, is that Venezuela must determine its own future without any outside influence. Sergey Lavrov said Russia is ready for dialogue but not from ultimatums. He said Democracy cannot be brought about by force.
SHAPIRO: So did they note any progress on any of these issues?
KIM: Well, actually they did. Pompeo said after meeting Putin that he had a very productive conversation on Syria. North Korea is another place, hot spot where they - where Russia and the U.S. see eye to eye. I think it's just really important to remember that for Russia, there's this desire to turn the page. And the fact that Pompeo came today is a great opportunity to start that process.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Lucian Kim in Sochi, Russia, thanks a lot.
KIM: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.