By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it is clear that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election, and that Washington and Moscow will not be able to restart with “a clean slate.”
Tillerson’s comments in a May 14 television interview with NBC follow Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Washington last week that included a meeting with President Donald Trump.
Tillerson echoed his earlier statements on bilateral ties, saying relations had fallen to “an all-time low point since the end of the Cold War, with a very low level of trust.”
He added, however, that this state of relations “is not healthy for the world.”
Relations between the two sides remain tense over Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its backing of separatists in Ukraine, the Syrian civil war, and other issues.
The Trump administration has not budged on the issue of U.S. sanctions targeting Russia over Ukraine, though Trump indicated during his campaign last year that he would consider lifting the punitive measures.
“I think it’s important to understand we’re not trying to start with a clean slate,” Tillerson said.
U.S. intelligence has also accused the Kremlin of directing a hacking and influence campaign aimed at helping Trump, who says he wants to improve ties with Moscow, defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election.
The Kremlin denies it interfered in the election. After voicing skepticism about the allegations, Trump has since said he believes Russia was behind the hacking campaign targeting Democrats but that it had no impact on the outcome of the vote.
Tillerson told NBC that Russian interference in the election was “well documented.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes,” he said.
He added, however, that it was “inconclusive” whether this had any impact on the election.
Trump’s presidency has been dogged by the Russian-meddling allegations and investigations by the FBI and congressional committees about contacts between his associates and Russian officials.
Trump has accused the news media and his political opponents of seeking to undermine his presidency with what he has called a “fake” Russia story.
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