Top US, Russia diplomats spar firmly but politely in Iceland

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Prime diplomats from the United States and Russia sparred politely in Iceland throughout their first face-to-face encounter, which got here as ties between the nations have deteriorated sharply in latest months.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia’s longtime Overseas Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke frankly however calmly of their variations as they held talks on the sidelines of an Arctic Council assembly Wednesday within the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, a metropolis with deep historical past in U.S.-Russian relations.

“We search a predictable, secure relationship with Russia,” Blinken advised Lavrov, echoing feedback made by President Joe Biden, who has proposed a summit with Russian chief Vladimir Putin subsequent month. “We expect that’s good for our folks, good for Russian folks and certainly good for the world.”

“It’s additionally no secret that we’ve got our variations and on the subject of these variations, as President Biden has additionally shared with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively in opposition to us, our companions, and our allies, we’ll reply — and President Biden has demonstrated that in each phrase and deed, not for functions of escalation, to not search out battle, however to defend our pursuits,” Blinken stated.

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The assembly befell simply because the Biden administration notified Congress of recent sanctions on Russia over a controversial European pipeline. The administration hit eight Russian firms and vessels with penalties for his or her involvement within the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, whereas sparing two German entities from related penalties, which might have a extra vital impact on the mission.

“We’ve severe variations within the evaluation of the worldwide state of affairs, we’ve got severe variations within the approaches to the duties which need to be solved for its normalization,” Lavrov stated. “Our place may be very easy: We’re prepared to debate all the problems with out exception, however beneath notion that the dialogue can be sincere, with the details on the desk, and naturally on the idea of mutual respect.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, greets Russian Overseas Minister Sergey Lavrov, proper, as they arrive for a gathering on the Harpa Live performance Corridor in Reykjavik, Iceland, Wednesday, Might 19, 2021, on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit. (Related Press)

Even earlier than Wednesday’s talks the 2 diplomats had laid down close to diametrically opposed positions for the assembly, previewing what was more likely to be a tough and contentious alternate over myriad points together with Ukraine, the Arctic, Russia’s therapy of opposition determine Alexey Navalny and accusations of cyber malfeasance, together with claims that Russia-based hackers had been liable for a ransomware assault on a key U.S. pipeline.

The assembly additionally adopted a spate of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as U.S.-Russian relations threaten a return to Chilly Conflict lows.

After the assembly, which ran for a longer-than-expected hour and 45 minutes, the State Division stated Blinken had referred to as for Russia to launch two People it holds, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. He additionally raised “deep issues” about Russia’s navy buildup on the Ukraine border and its actions in opposition to the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the division stated.

Lavrov, in the meantime, advised Russian reporters after the assembly that the talks had been “constructive” and that Russia has proposed beginning a brand new and broad strategic dialogue. “There’s a number of rubble, it’s not straightforward to rake it up, however I felt that Antony Blinken and his group had been decided to do that. It is not going to be a matter for us,” he stated, in line with the information company Tass.

A senior U.S. official referred to as the assembly “a very good begin” with “no polemics” that had allowed each side to “tee-up a number of the problems that the 2 presidents could have the chance to debate.” However, neither aspect supplied any replace on progress towards a Biden-Putin summit, saying solely that discussions about its logistics proceed.

Maybe anticipating Blinken’s place and the anticipated sanctions announcement, Lavrov had supplied a prebuttal at a information convention Monday in Moscow.

“Apparently, a (U.S.) choice was made to advertise secure, predictable relations with Russia,” he stated. “Nevertheless, if this contains fixed and predictable sanctions, that’s not what we want.”

Blinken stated his assembly with Lavrov can be an necessary alternative to check the proposition that the U.S. and Russia can work collaboratively on sure points, like local weather change, the Mideast, Iran and North Korea, regardless of bitter disagreements on others. The assembly comes as a lot of the world is concentrated on the Israel-Palestinian battle.

Blinken famous that regardless of the vitriol, the U.S. and Russia had agreed early within the Biden administration to a five-year extension of a key arms management pact that President Donald Trump had declined to resume earlier than he left workplace. Trump left a decidedly combined legacy on Russia that included a pleasant private relationship with Putin, whereas his administration nonetheless imposed sanctions and different punitive measures.

One other, extra quick space of disagreement in Reykjavik, the positioning of the well-known 1986 summit between President Ronald Reagan and Russian chief Mikhail Gorbachev, is the Arctic, the place Russia has been increasing its navy presence and pursuing insurance policies to broaden its affect, to the alarm of the People.

Blinken famous that the U.S. and Russia have cooperated previously on Arctic points, though he glossed over deep American opposition to Russia’s elevated navy exercise within the space and its proposal to resume a long-suspended navy dialogue throughout the eight-nation Arctic Council.

Blinken rejected Russian calls to renew a navy part of the Arctic Council and expressed issues about Russia’s rising navy exercise within the area generally known as the “excessive North.” On Wednesday, in successive conferences with overseas ministers from different Nordic Council members, Blinken repeatedly referred to the significance of “persevering with to keep up this area as certainly one of peaceable cooperation.”

“We’ve issues about a number of the latest navy actions within the Arctic,” he stated. “That Will increase the hazards of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the shared aim of a peaceable and sustainable future for the area.”

Blinken additionally took Russia to process for proposing new navigational rules for the area and decried Lavrov for feedback wherein he dismissed such criticism as a result of the Arctic “is our territory, our land.”

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“We’ve to proceed all of us, together with Russia, based mostly on the principles, based mostly on norms, based mostly on the commitments that we’ve every made and likewise keep away from statements that undercut these,” Blinken stated.

In his feedback Monday, Lavrov famous the grievances about Russia’s navy actions within the Arctic. “It has lengthy been widespread information that that is our territory, our land. We’re accountable for protecting the Arctic coast protected. All the pieces Russia is doing there may be completely authorized,” he stated.

Moscow and Washington are additionally embroiled in a bitter dispute over the standing of their respective embassies and consulates after the diplomatic expulsions. Russia has given the U.S. till Aug. 1 to do away with all non-American workers at its diplomatic missions, one thing the U.S. says will make it almost inconceivable for its amenities to perform.



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