New U.S. Ambassador to Russia Will Focus on Counterterrorism Ties

(Bloomberg) -- John Sullivan, the former deputy secretary of State who is now heading to Moscow as U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he will try to focus on areas where the two sides can cooperate, even with relations between the two sides still at a post-Cold-War low.

Speaking about a month before he departs for Moscow, Sullivan said he has a range of priorities: Cooperating on an arms-control strategy that makes sense for the two countries, addressing the rights of gays and lesbians, security in the Arctic, and sharing information to protect the U.S. and its allies from terrorist attacks.

“We expect the Russian government will take seriously the commitment to protecting the world from dangerous terrorist groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” said Sullivan, who started actively seeking the Russia post in June.

New U.S. Ambassador to Russia Will Focus on Counterterrorism Ties

That information-sharing was a focus of Sullivan’s during his time as deputy secretary. He joined a counterterrorism dialogue in September, pressing for further sanctions against Islamic State at the United Nations and seeking new steps to protect commercial aviation from terrorist threats.

The task won’t be easy. A recent visit to Washington by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov only underscored how far apart the U.S. and Russia remain on a variety of matters, ranging from U.S. allegations of election interference, the fate of Russian diplomats denied visas to join their country’s mission at the United Nations, and arms control.

The U.S. has shied away from renewing the New START treaty, instead seeking a broader arms-control deal that includes China. Russia has said the bilateral agreement should be renewed for now, with other ideas to be considered later on.

One of the few areas where the two sides have found some common cause is North Korea and the shared belief that it must give up its nuclear weapons. But that. too, was undermined this week when Russia and China sought to ease the United Nations economic embargo on the country.

Sullivan said another priority will be freedom of the press and government transparency. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1993, with an average of seven going missing and five imprisoned each year.

The U.S. is imperfect, Sullivan said. “But the way that you know that is we have transparency in our government.”

His replacement at the State Department, Stephen Biegun, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday by a vote of 90-3.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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