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August 09, 2013

Kerry, Hagel Meet With Russian Counterparts

by Carla Babb

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held meetings Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Senior U.S. administration officials say Kerry reiterated disappointment in Russia’s decision to grant asylum to wanted U.S. national security information leaker Edward Snowden. They say Kerry reinforced the U.S. view that Snowden, who is charged with three felonies, would receive a fair trial in the United States.

At the start of the talks, Kerry was very candid about the two countries’ rocky relationship. "It is marked by both shared interests and at times colliding and conflicting interests. I think that we’re all very clear-eyed about that," said Kerry.

Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that while Snowden is a high profile point of contention, Russia’s actions are not surprising.

"Our relations with Russia aren’t good enough to overcome the history in intelligence that neither country ever returns the other sides' defectors," said Cordesman.

While their disagreements are making headlines, U.S. officials say the tone of the meetings remained "positive and constructive."

Speaking at the Russian embassy in Washington after the talks, Lavrov agreed. "It's clear there is no Cold War that we should expect. We shouldn't expect any aggravation."

Lavrov also said the two countries had agreed to convene another Syrian peace conference in Geneva as soon as possible. Russia supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. favors the Syrian opposition in the Syrian civil conflict.

No firm date or plans are in place for the proposed Geneva talks, and Cordesman described the two countries' roles in the civil conflict as minimal. "For all the talk of the U.S. role, and the Russian role, 90 percent of the future of Syria is Syrian,” he said.
 
U.S. officials say the diplomats also discussed other disputes. Russia is angry over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, and the U.S. is concerned about Russia's human rights record. The two Russian officials also showed their displeasure with Obama’s recent cancellation of a planned one-on-one meeting next month with President Vladimir Putin.