WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia's foreign minister sarcastically acknowledged the abrupt dismissal of FBI director James Comey by saying 'Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding' as he posed on Wednesday for photographs with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
President Donald Trump stunned Washington on Tuesday with his decision to fire Comey, whose agency is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the possibility Trump associates may have colluded with Moscow.
The move provoked a storm of criticism among Democrats who said Trump was trying to blunt the FBI probe, and some of the president's fellow Republicans also questioned the timing of the ouster. White House officials denied any political motive in the move by Trump, who took office on Jan. 20.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Tillerson at the State Department before he was to head to the White House for talks with Trump.
Asked by a reporter if Comey's dismissal would cast a shadow over his talks with Tillerson, Lavrov acknowledged the elephant in the room by replying in a sarcastic tone: "Was he fired? You're kidding. You're kidding."
Tillerson made no reference to Comey as he and Lavrov shook hands and posed for photographs.
"I want to welcome Foreign Minister Lavrov to the State Department and express my appreciation for him making the trip to Washington so that we could continue our dialogue and our exchange of views that began in Moscow with the dialogue he hosted on a very broad range of topics," he said.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said on Wednesday it hoped that Comey's firing would not affect Russia's ties with the United States, saying it believed his dismissal had nothing to do with Russia.
During a visit to Moscow in April Tillerson met both Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin and described the low level of trust between the two nations, who have sharp differences over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other matters.
"The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship," Tillerson said at the time.
Trump repeatedly said during his presidential campaign that he would seek closer ties with Russia.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Frances Kerry)