Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in July against Moscow paying Taliban-linked militants and other Afghan fighters bounties to kill U.S. service members, delivering a rebuke running counter to President Donald Trump's claims that the intelligence on the subject was a "hoax."
The New York Times reported Friday that Pompeo's warning about paying bounties marks the first rebuke from a senior administration official to Russia after he has been publicly careful to avoid answers on direct questions about the bounties.
The warning was delivered during a July 13 call about an unrelated topic, a potential meeting of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, reports The Times, quoting U.S. officials. However, the newspaper reported that the call was not "explicitly" about the intelligence on bounties.
The details about the bounty scheme and how they were learned remain classified, and in July, when Pompeo testified before Congress, he said he has raised "all of the issues" with Lavrov that pose risks to America's interests, “whether it’s our soldiers on the ground in Syria, soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, the activities that are taking place in Libya, the actions in Ukraine.”
A State Department's public summary about the call between Lavrov and Pompeo said they "discussed issues of mutual concern, including Afghanistan," but declined to comment about the details of the call.
Officials quoted anonymously by the paper said that during the call, Pompeo made it clear to Lavrov by talking about payouts and red lines that the United States strongly opposed the bounty program and that he was angry about what the intelligence revealed.
The Times noted that Pompeo and the State Department have been careful not to reveal actions he may have taken based on the intelligence over the bounties both because of the classified material and to avoid Trump's response.
Trump said last week that when he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he didn't talk about the bounties, telling "Axios on HBO" that the phone call was to "discuss other things, and frankly, that's an issue that many people said was fake news."
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