MANILA—U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russia’s foreign minister that the U.S. would respond to that country’s recent expulsion of American diplomats by Sept. 1 and that the nations must confront the distrust created by Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Mr. Tillerson, speaking with journalists Monday at an Asian regional security conference in the Philippines, said that he told his Russian counterpart in a meeting a day earlier that he wanted Russia to “understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between…the American people and the Russian people.”
He told Russia that “We simply have to find some way to deal with that,” Mr. Tillerson said.
Mr. Tillerson and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got together Sunday for an hour in a much-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the conference following a spell of increasing acrimony over sanctions against Russia adopted by the U.S. Congress and reluctantly signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the meeting began with Mr. Lavrov explaining the reasoning behind Russia’s decision to expel U.S. diplomats. The decision came “after a long wait for the U.S. not to go down the path of confrontation. But, unfortunately, Russophobic members of Congress prevented that from happening,” the ministry said.
The ministers discussed a range of global issues, including cybersecurity, North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, the ministry said.
The sanctions were intended to punish Russia after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Moscow had sought to interfere in the election, which Mr. Trump won. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying the U.S. would have to cut 755 diplomats and staff in the country by September.
Mr. Tillerson said Monday that he asked Mr. Lavrov several clarifying questions about that move, and promised a U.S. response by Sept. 1.
Mr. Trump, who has said that relations between the powers are at “an all-time low,” has publicly questioned the intelligence findings on the election and dismissed investigations by Congress and a Justice Department special prosecutor into the matter. Russia has denied meddling in the election.
Mr. Tillerson said Mr. Lavrov indicated “some willingness” to resolve tensions over Ukraine. The countries have been in conflict since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists started a war in the eastern part of the country.
After the territory grab, the U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions on Mosow, which Russia has tried unsuccessfully to have lifted. Mr. Trump, who has spoken favorably of the Russian leader, has called for the two countries to make peace.
Mr. Tillerson said the administration viewed the relationship with Russia with pragmatism.
“We want to work with them on areas that are of serious national security interest to us while at the same time having this extraordinary issue of mistrust that divides us,” Mr. Tillerson said. “That’s just what we in the diplomatic part of our relationship are required to do.”
—James Marson in Moscow contributed to this report.
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