US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday downplayed strained bilateral ties over a range of issues, which include Russia’s decision to grant asylum to accused US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, as the two sides met here for talks.
“The relationship between the United States and Russia is needless to say a very important relationship and it is marked by both shared interests and, at times, colliding and conflicting interests and, I think we are all very clear-eyed about that,” Kerry said prior to the talks, which also include US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The talks come two days after the White House announced that US President Barack Obama canceled a planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow early next month, a decision Washington said was motivated by a lack of prospects for movement on key bilateral issues and also the standoff over Snowden.
“We have a full agenda today, one that of course includes issues that we disagree on,” Lavrov said prior to the start of the talks. “We will, of course, continue to discuss them calmly.”
The officials are expected to focus on a number of sticking points in bilateral ties, including missile defense, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States for leaking details of secret US government surveillance programs.
Washington has repeatedly called on Russia to expel Snowden, who has been hailed as a whistleblower and hero by many in the United States and around the world, but Moscow has refused to budge and granted him temporary asylum last week.
Kerry cited both his and Lavrov’s experience as ice hockey players in describing the state of the bilateral relationship, saying that both sides are aware that “diplomacy, like hockey, can sometimes result in the occasional collision.”
“So we’re candid, very candid, about the areas in which we agree but also the areas in which we disagree,” Kerry said, The Associated Press reported.