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Top US and Russian diplomats hold first high-level meeting of Biden’s presidency

Rosemary Nguyen Rosemary Nguyen

khanhduong.vns@gmail.com

May 21, 2021 | 08:49

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, the first high-level encounter between the US and Russia since President Joe Biden took office, which comes amid heightened tensions between the former Cold War foes - friction Blinken acknowledged right away.

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Top US and Russian diplomats hold first high-level meeting of Biden’s presidency
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) as they arrive for a meeting at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit. Photo AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia’s longtime Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke frankly but calmly of their differences as they held talks on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, a city with deep history in US-Russian relations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the start of their meeting in Reykjavik on Wednesday that Moscow and Washington have to decide on their further cooperation as serious differences remain, cited Reuters.

“We seek a predictable, stable relationship with Russia," Blinken told Lavrov, echoing comments made by President Joe Biden, who has proposed a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin next month.

“We think that’s good for our people, good for Russian people and indeed good for the world.”

“It’s also no secret that we have our differences and when it comes to those differences, as President Biden has also shared with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, and our allies, we’ll respond and President Biden has demonstrated that in both word and deed, not for purposes of escalation, not to seek out conflict, but to defend our interests," Blinken said.

Top US and Russian diplomats hold first high-level meeting of Biden’s presidency
The two diplomats hold talsk at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit. Photo AP

The meeting took place just as the Biden administration notified Congress of new sanctions on Russia over a controversial European pipeline. The administration hit eight Russian companies and vessels with penalties for their involvement in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while sparing two German entities from similar penalties, which would have a more significant effect on the project.

“We have serious differences in the assessment of the international situation, we have serious differences in the approaches to the tasks which have to be solved for its normalization,” Lavrov said. "Our position is very simple: We are ready to discuss all the issues without exception, but under perception that the discussion will be honest, with the facts on the table, and of course on the basis of mutual respect.”

Even before Wednesday's talks the two diplomats had laid down near diametrically opposed positions for the meeting, previewing what was likely to be a difficult and contentious exchange over myriad issues including Ukraine, the Arctic, Russia's treatment of opposition figure Alexey Navalny and accusations of cyber malfeasance, including claims that Russia-based hackers were responsible for a ransomware attack on a key US pipeline.

The meeting also followed a spate of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as US-Russian relations threaten a return to Cold War lows.

After the meeting, which ran for a longer-than-expected hour and 45 minutes, the State Department said Blinken had called for Russia to release two Americans it holds, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. He also raised deep concerns about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border and its actions against the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the department said./.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that what it called constructive talks between Moscow's and Washington's top diplomats were a "positive signal" for holding a potential summit between President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks between Lavrov and Blinken would help Moscow decide on the possibility of holding a summit.

Peskov said Moscow would analyse the talks before Putin made any decision on meeting Biden.

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Rosemary Nguyen

Tags: biden US Russia