Ukraine peacekeepers are top United States priority: Tillerson

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North Korea is open to coming to the table for direct talks with the USA over its nuclear ambitions, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told his American counterpart Rex Tillerson on Thursday.

Tillerson insisted the USA could never overlook Russia's "attempted annexation" of Crimea or Moscow's military intrusion in eastern Ukraine.

"We can have differences in other arenas, in Syria, we can have differences in other areas", he said. "It stands as the single most hard obstacle to us renormalizing a relationship with Russian Federation, which we badly would like to do".

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Moscow is deeply concerned about the situation with the observance of rights and freedoms throughout the Euro-Atlantic space, the practice of dividing media outlets into "free" and "propaganda" is vicious, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told an OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Vienna on Thursday. But that does not mean the United States acknowledges that Crimea is now a part of Russian Federation, which annexed the peninsula in early 2014 before the conflict expanded into eastern Ukraine around the Donbas region.

"The issue that stands in the way is Ukraine", Tillerson said, according to The Associated Press.

"We will never accept Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea", Tillerson told the audience at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe event.

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Russia has brought forward a proposal for a United Nations force to protect OSCE truce monitors deployed in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed rebels are fighting Kiev's troops.

"In eastern Ukraine, we join our European partners in maintaining sanctions until Russian Federation withdraws its forces from the Donbass (region) and meets its Minsk commitments", Tillerson said.

Tillerson made no mention on Thursday of Russia's efforts to meddle in the United States' 2016 presidential election, though he hinted at such activities a day earlier in Brussels, saying that Moscow's efforts to "undermine Western institutions" remained an obstacle to warmer ties with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Neither said anything to reporters, beyond Lavrov's claim to a reporter who shouted questions loudly and clearly, "I can't hear you".

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