U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened his meeting in Washington Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the U.S. and Russian defense chiefs by saying the talks are important above and beyond the two nations' "moments of disagreement."
Speaking at the State Department, Kerry said the U.S.-Russia relationship is marked by both shared interests and at times, "colliding and conflicting interests," and not just over the case of U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
"Now I think we're all very clear-eyed about that. Sergei Lavrov and I are old hockey players, and we both know that diplomacy, like hockey, can sometimes result in the occasional collision."
Kerry said U.S. and Russian officials are "candid" about the areas in which they disagree, but stressed that it is important for the two nations to find ways to make progress on missile defense and other strategic issues, including Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Lavrov said the Syrian conflict is both nations' "top priority" in terms of crisis settlement, with both sides supporting efforts to organize an international peace conference and a negotiated political solution to that war.
The discussions come at a low point in relations between the U.S. and Russia, two days after President Barack Obama called off next month's planned summit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. was particularly angered by Russia's decision to grant asylum to Snowden and its refusal to hand over the former U.S. intelligence contractor so he could face espionage charges in the United States.
The U.S. and Russia also back opposing sides in Syria's civil war, with the U.S. supporting Syrian rebels and Russia arming President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. and Russia have a responsibility to each other and to the world to find solutions to these great challenges. He said he had a "very positive" meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Friday morning, addressing military-to-military cooperation and other issues.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the U.S. wants to discuss key issues with Russia, but that there is not enough agreement at the moment to warrant an Obama-Putin meeting.
"We did not see, on a range of fronts, the kind of sufficient progress on some of the major issues that we are engaging with the Russians on, to merit a summit. Mr. Snowden was a factor, but not the only factor. And when you have summits like these you want the kind of progress prior to them to be sufficient enough to merit a meeting of the leaders."
Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, admitted leaking details of secret National Security Agency surveillance programs that gather information on telephone calls and Internet use. Snowden says U.S. citizens have the right to know their government is spying on them. The NSA says the programs stopped several terrorist plots.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong, then to Russia, to avoid prosecution.