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Arms Control, Venezuela, North Korea On Agenda For Pompeo's Russia Talks

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Arms control, North Korea, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Russian election meddling will top the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo travels to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin next week, the State Department said on May 10.

Pompeo's trip to Russia is his first as the top U.S. diplomat -- and the talks will be the highest-level formal discussions held between U.S. and Russian officials since July 2018.

They come amid growing speculation that the White House is pushing for another meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump.

The two presidents spoke by phone one week ago and, according to both the White House and the Kremlin, had an upbeat conversation.

The White House said the two discussed the recently concluded investigation into Russian election interference by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump said he told Putin that the investigation was a "Russia hoax," a description he's used repeatedly in the past, but he did not raise the issue of Russia's meddling in future elections, something U.S. intelligence officials have warned about.

Moscow has confirmed Pompeo would be traveling to Russia, but has made no further comment on the planned agenda for the visit.

A senior State Department official told reporters on May 10 that Pompeo would travel first to Moscow on May 13 for meetings with U.S. Embassy officials.

He was also scheduled to meet with members of the U.S. business community, which has been rattled by the arrest in recent months of two Americans, including prominent investor Michael Calvey.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pompeo then travels to the Black Sea city of Sochi on May 14 to meet with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"The starting point we have to have when we discuss our policy toward Russia…is to acknowledge frankly that Russia has taken a series of aggressive and destabilizing actions on the global stage," the official said. "This trip is an opportunity to make those points clear to the Russian government and what our expectations are and [to] see how to forge a path forward."

The official said arms control was high on the agenda, in particular an "arms control agreement that reflects modern reality."

The United States has pulled out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, citing alleged Russian violations. Known as the INF, the agreement has long been considered a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian arms control. And Moscow and Washington have been gearing up for talks on how and whether to extend the 2011 New START treaty, a broader arms agreement that could lapse as early as 2021.

The official said other topics for the Putin-Pompeo talks include Venezuela, Ukraine, Iran, and Syria -- all areas where Washington and Moscow are at direct odds with one another.

On the eve of his last meeting with Lavrov on May 6, Pompeo told ABC News that the message for Moscow regarding Venezuela was: "The Russians must get out."

Russia, which has substantial investments in Venezeula, has accused the United States of meddling in domestic affairs there, and Lavrov has warned that any military intervention would be "catastrophic."

"It is no secret we have many areas of disagreement with the Russian government and the secretary will have a very candid conversation about concerns in our bilateral relationship,” the official said. That includes the INF dispute and “Kremlin backed attempts to meddle in U.S. and other countries’ elections."

On North Korea, the official said the two sides had had constructive discussions on efforts to get Pyonyang to give up its nuclear weapons. That's occurred, he said, "even though we don't agree with Russia about all the details of how to achieve this goal."

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