Henry Meyer and Stepan Kravchenko — Bloomberg Feb 6, 2017
Russia rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s assertion that Iran is the world’s “number one terrorist” nation, and said that the government in Tehran should be part of a proposed coalition to fight against Islamic State.
“All those who see Islamic State as an existential threat should start to act in a coordinated manner and I’m sure that if we look objectively at potential members of this coalition, Iran should, of course, be part of our joint efforts,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Monday.
Trump labelled Iran as the top sponsor of state terrorism in an interview with Fox News broadcast Sunday, adding: “They are sending money all over the place, weapons.” Russia doesn’t agree with this characterization and values its “friendly” relations with Iran, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday on a conference call with reporters.
The exchange marks the first major disagreement between President Vladimir Putin and the new Trump administration, even as both sides say they are ready to work together to fight Islamic State. Russia has defended Iran against U.S. claims that its recent missile tests violated the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Islamic Republic and world powers, and criticized American sanctions imposed last week in response to the launches as counterproductive.
Peskov sought to play down divisions, saying that their “diametrically opposed” views on this and other international issues shouldn’t prevent Russia and the U.S. establishing mutually beneficial relations.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence linked cooperation with Putin in fighting Islamic State to a possible easing of sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Asked in an ABC News interview on Sunday if the punitive measures would remain in place as long as Russia is violating the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, Pence replied that it depended in part on the opportunity to work on common interests.
“The president’s made it clear the top priority of this administration is to hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source,” Pence said, using another term for Islamic State. “Russia has a common interest in confronting radical Islamic terrorism and especially ISIS.”
Trump, who’s repeatedly criticized the Iranian nuclear deal, is looking at means to split up the alliance between Russia and Iran to bring an end to the war in Syria and strengthen the fight against Islamic State, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing senior U.S., European and Arab officials that it didn’t identify.