May 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov for three hours Tuesday before a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss relations.
Washington and Moscow have clashed over a wide range of issues, including tensions with Iran, the civil war in Syria, North Korea and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
"We had a frank discussion about many issues, including many places where we disagreed," Pompeo said in remarks after his meeting with Lavrov. "The United States stands ready to find common ground with Russia as long as the two of us can engage seriously on those issues.
"President Trump has made clear that his expectation is that we will have an improved relationship between our two countries. This will benefit each of our people and I think in our talks here today we got a good start in that direction."
Pompeo called on Russia to end support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and confirmed that U.S. sanctions will remain in place due to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. He also said the Trump administration will continue pressuring Iran for accused terrorist activities. Pompeo lightly touched on Russian interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
Lavrov voiced support for Maduro and warned against using military force in removing him.
"Democracy can't be done by force," Lavrov said. "The threats we here against the Maduro government, threats that come from the mouths of official representatives from the U.S. administration and from Guaido ... mentioning his right to invite military intervention from the outside. This has nothing to do with democracy."
Lavrov first greeted Pompeo in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, attempting to strike a positive tone. State-run news agency TASS reported the initial meeting lasted about three hours at the Russian Black Sea resort.