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Russian foreign ministry says neither confirms nor denies Tillerson visit

Reuters logo Reuters 3/21/2017 By Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott
FILE PHOTO - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on issues related to visas and travel © REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo FILE PHOTO - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on issues related to visas and travel

MOSCOW, March 21 (Reuters) - Russia's Foreign Ministry declined on Tuesday to confirm or deny reported plans by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to visit Moscow, expressing its surprise at the "regular leak" of information from Washington.

Sources told Reuters on Monday Tillerson planned to skip his first meeting of the 28 NATO allies in April in order to stay home for a visit by China's president and then go to Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in response to media requests for confirmation of Tillerson's Moscow visit that the ministry was "not prepared to confirm or deny this information."

"But we are certainly surprised by the regular leak of sensitive information from Washington," she said in a post on Facebook.

"It's time for U.S. political elites to figure out if 'Russian hackers' have once again got into State Department servers or if the threat to U.S. cyber security has an American origin after all," Zakharova said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said later he was unaware of plans by Tillerson to visit Moscow.

Skipping the NATO meeting and visiting Moscow could risk feeding a perception that Trump's administration may be prioritizing U.S. dealings with big powers over smaller nations that depend on Washington for security.

Tillerson worked with Russia's government for years in his former role as a top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp. He has questioned the wisdom of sanctions against Russia that he said could harm U.S. businesses. (Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Paul Tait)

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