31 Jan 2020

John Sullivan: President Trump charged me with improving relations between U.S. and Russia

New U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, who has recently started his mission in Moscow, has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about priorities of his work and assesses the prospects of developing bilateral relations.

Question: How do you perceive the prospects for U.S.-Russia relations now that you‘ve been appointed and begun working in Moscow as the U.S. ambassador? Your predecessor, Jon Huntsman, upon leaving his post hinted he was disappointed with bilateral relations. What priorities are you setting as head of the U.S. Embassy to Russia?

Answer: President Trump has charged me with improving bilateral relations between the United States and Russia. I will do everything I can during my tenure to advance this goal. From my perspective, this means strengthening dialogue between our countries on pressing international issues and conflicts and identifying areas of overlapping mutual interest in which we can engage constructively.

Clearly, there is much work to be done. This starts at the diplomatic level. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have met previously on several occasions, and I look forward to continuing to work with him in my new role as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. I have appreciated the warm reception - at all levels - I have received since my arrival. It is my hope that this reflects a shared sense of the opportunity before us to improve aspects of the bilateral relationship.

Q.: President Putin has come up with an initiative to convene a summit of UN Security Council permanent member states to discuss the international agenda. Paris and Beijing have already backed this initiative. What will Washington‘s position be? What‘s your opinion?

A.: I can confirm that we have received President Putin’s proposal, which is under consideration in Washington.

The United Nations has been the main forum for discussion among the five Security Council permanent member states for 75 years, since its founding in San Francisco in 1945. We work closely with all members of the Security Council on a regular basis and will continue to do so, wherever those conversations take place.

Q.: Naturally, everyone is interested in whether President Trump will come to Moscow on May 9 for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in WWII. There has been no decision yet, but what is your assessment of the probability of this visit? And a follow-up question: Heated debate is currently ongoing concerning the history and lessons of WWII. What is your personal attitude toward cooperation between the United States and Russia as part of the anti-Hitler coalition during the war?

A.:I don’t have any news for you on a presidential visit.

But I will say that the United States is preparing to mark many notable anniversaries this year related to the end of World War Two. While Victory Day in Europe unquestionably represents a significant historical milestone, the United States‘ significant role in the global conflict did not cease on May 8 (or May 9!). The war in the Pacific raged on for almost four more months. So much was lost, and so much must be remembered.

Cooperation between the United States and our allies during the Second World War is an important historical fact. The United States recognizes the immense sacrifice of the peoples of the Soviet Union, and of so many other nations, during those long years. The war was horrific, but it showed how we can work together to achieve a common goal. The Lend-Lease program demonstrated the value of working together to bring in much-needed supplies and equipment. American and Soviet soldiers pushed forward to meet each other at the Elbe to help liberate Europe. On a people-to-people level, American citizens across the United States collected materials and books to restock libraries and school in the Soviet Union that had been looted during the war.

Just this week, I met with Jewish leaders in Russia at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops – to underscore the United States‘ commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and preventing anything like that from ever happening again. Our Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman was in St. Petersburg on Monday with American civilian and military colleagues to commemorate the end of the Siege of Leningrad, and to pay tribute to the brave men, women and children who did so much to defend their city.

Q.: Is the United States going to hold serious dialogue with Russia on arms control and strategic stability in light of the ‘death‘ of the INF treaty and the vague prospects for the New START Treaty? Is Washington ready is extend the current START Treaty in order to give the parties more time to discuss a new agreement in this sphere? Do you think it‘s possible to engage China in dialogue on this topic, given Beijing‘s negative reaction to relevant U.S. proposals?

A.: As we have said, the United States is reviewing how to modernize arms control to respond to new challenges. Such frameworks are essential, but they must be comprehensive, verifiable, and global.

We have had very candid conversations with senior Russian officials, and it is my hope that we will continue to engage constructively as we near the end of the current START agreement in February 2021. And, it is important that China be included in any multilateral negotiation.

Q.: Will Washington actively cooperate with Moscow to settle acute regional conflicts, such as the situation in Iran, the North Korean nuclear problem, and the situations in Afghanistan, Libya, and the Middle East?

A.: As I said earlier, we continue to engage here in Moscow, and with regional and international partners on many levels as we look to address these issues, and move towards solutions that bring peace and security.

Q.: The United States recently passed Russia information that allowed Russia to detain extremists and prevent a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg. This is a vivid example of cooperation between the two countries in the sphere of countering international terrorism. Is Washington going to continue such cooperation? Are there fresh examples of times when information from Moscow helped neutralize a terrorist threat against the United States?

A.: The United States takes threats to the lives of Americans, and Russians, very seriously. We will continue to pass information to relevant authorities in the Russian Federation as we aim to protect innocent lives.

While I don‘t want to get into details on this specific case, our joint work to identify the threat and exchange important information over a period of time was key to neutralizing a threat to Russians and others in Russia. We hope that this can serve as a model for future cooperation, on counterterrorism and other issues.