Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told Russia’s top diplomat that Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election “created serious mistrust” between the US and Russia.
Mr Tillerson’s comments to Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, come after Donald Trump has repeatedly declined to categorically say that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential race, contradicting the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
Mr Tillerson met with Mr Lavrov on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in the Philippines.
“We talked about it in the discussion we had with Minister Lavrov yesterday – and trying to help them understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between the US and the American people and the Russian people,” Mr Tillerson said while speaking at the forum on Monday, according to CNN.
“[I said] this had created serious mistrust between our two countries and that we simply have to find some way to deal with that,” he added.
Russia has consistently maintained that it did not interfere in the election.
Trump administration efforts to reset relations US-Russian relations have so far appeared to be unsuccessful.
Last week, Mr Trump grudgingly signed a bill punishing Russia for election meddling and making it harder for him to ease sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s government.
Mr Trump signed the bill behind closed doors, without the fanfare that has customarily accompanied his signing of executive orders. In a statement, he criticised the measure, saying it “remains seriously flawed” and infringes on his powers to shape foreign policy,
“As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” Mr Trump said.
The bill was vehemently opposed by Moscow, which responded to Congress’s overwhelming passage of the legislation by ordering the American diplomatic mission in Russia to reduce its staff by 755 employees.
Mr Tillerson on Monday said he discussed the pending removal of consular staff with Mr Lavrov.
“I told the foreign minister we had not made a decision regarding how we will respond to Russia's request to remove US diplomatic personnel,” Mr Tillerson said, adding that he would respond to the matter by 1 September and that the US and Russia should find ways to cooperate.
“We have our differences, we're going to have to continue to find a way to address those,” he added.
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