- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Obama administration is pushing back at Russia’s assertion that relations between Washington and Moscow have essentially been “frozen” until President-elect Donald Trump takes over the White House next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov made headlines Wednesday by claiming that “a dialogue with the United States has been frozen on practically all levels,” and that the Kremlin expects Mr. Trump to take a “fresher and more constructive approach.”

But Mr. Peskov, who made the remarks to Russia’s Mir TV, also cautioned against “excessive optimism,” according to The Associated Press, which reported on the development.

The remark about relations being “frozen” appeared to trigger unease at the State Department, where spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that, “I don’t know exactly what to make of that comment.”

“Obviously, we don’t agree and have issues with Russia on a variety of issues, but dialogue has not been broken,” said Mr. Kirby, who stressed that Secretary of State John F. Kerry spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.

Mr. Kirby also said U.S. Ambassador to Russia John F. Tefft continues to engage with Russian officials “every day and on all manner of issues.” He added that U.S. Defense officials still have a regular “deconfliction” channel open with their Russian counterparts — using it as recently as Wednesday to ensure there is no accidental clash of U.S. and Russian military assets operating in Syria.

The State Department spokesman also pushed back at the notion that U.S. officials were deliberately left out of talks on Syria that were held Tuesday in Moscow between diplomats from Russian Turkish and Iranian diplomats.

While Mr. Kerry was reportedly not invited to the summit, Mr. Kirby said it would be inaccurate to say “they’ve excluded us.”

“Yes, we weren’t in the meeting in Moscow, but it’s not as if we haven’t had communication with them before and then right after that meeting,” he said. “There’s been no exclusion of the United States with respect to the issue of Syria.”

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