US administration ‘did not sanction those discussions’, says Washington, after news reports that top former US officials met Russian foreign minister
President Joe Biden’s administration did not sanction or support secret meetings that former top US national security officials held with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and other Russians on potential talks to end the Ukraine war, the White House and state department have said.
NBC News reported that the former US officials met Lavrov in New York in April, joined by Richard Haass, a former US diplomat and outgoing president of the council on foreign relations, and two former White House aides.
It was not clear how frequently the group, which included former Pentagon officials, held discussions with other prominent Russians thought to be close to the Kremlin, NBC News reported. At least one unidentified group member travelled to Russia, it said.
“The Biden administration did not sanction those discussions,” a state department spokesperson said on Thursday in response to questions. “And as we’ve said repeatedly, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
The spokesperson was referring to an administration policy of not discussing possible negotiations on ending the war without involving Ukrainian officials.
He said the administration would continue providing weaponry to Kyiv so Ukrainian officials “can negotiate from a position of strength when they think the time is right”.
Former diplomats said that the US did make use of former diplomats to conduct back channel discussions, although this did not mean they would lead to a more serious negotiations. Lavrov would be highly unlikely to meet retired US officials unless they had some link to official channels, they added.
A former western official said they were aware of the talks but their status was unclear: “But even if not authorised this visit shows that some ‘realists’ in DC want to do a deal with Russia over Ukraine’s head.”
NBC News, quoting six people briefed on the discussions, said they were aimed at laying the groundwork for possible talks on ending the war that erupted with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
It quoted two sources as saying that the discussions took place with the administration’s knowledge but not at its direction and that those who met Lavrov briefed the White House afterwards.
The White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, also told CBS News the White House was aware of the unofficial discussions.
“But I want to make it clear that these discussions were not encouraged or engendered by us and we were not supporting them in any active way,” he continued. “As the president has said, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
Source: The Guardian