A day after firing the FBI director who had been overseeing the sweeping probe into his campaign's ties to Russia, President Trump has just one event on his public schedule: an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The sit-down between Trump and Lavrov, the first face-to-face contact the president has had with a senior official of the Russian government, will take place Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in the White House. It will be closed to the press, according to the White House schedule.
Trump and Lavrov are expected to talk about the turmoil in Syria and fight against global terrorism, among other issues, picking up on the conversation Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin via telephone on May 2.
Lavrov's visit to Washington comes amid intense speculation surrounding Trump's sudden move to fire James B. Comey as FBI director. Comey had been overseeing the bureau's counterintelligence probe to determine whether Trump campaign officials or associates may have coordinated with Russia to interfere with last year's U.S. presidential election.
Trump said he fired Comey at the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who concluded that Comey had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly in his probe last year of her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Still, Trump's meeting with Lavrov could raise concerns among critics that the president is too cozy with Putin's government.
Both Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are scheduled to attend a meeting of the Arctic Council on Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska, and were due to hold a bilateral meeting. Lavrov's decision to stop first in Washington comes as Russia is seeking support for a cease-fire agreement in Syria. Russia has signed the agreement along with Iran — its partner in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — as well as Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally that is backing rebels in a six-year civil war against Assad.
The Trump administration has cautiously backed the cease-fire, which includes four “de-confliction” or safe zones. But the administration has given no indication of direct support for the plan, which many Syria experts consider a ploy by Russia to rid the four areas — all of which are currently sites of conflict between Assad and rebel forces — of the rebels.
Russia has been preparing a resolution supporting the plan to submit to the United Nations Security Council, and wants Trump to support it.
Trump is expected to hold his first meeting with Putin in July, when both travel to Germany to a summit of the Group of 20 leading and developing world economies.
Tillerson met with Lavrov last month in Russia, where discussions also centered on Syria, and U.S. efforts — in the wake of the cruise missile attack Trump launched against an Assad air base in early April — to persuade Russia to abandon its support for the Syrian president and sever its ties in Syria with Iran.