Kerry, Hagel, Russian peers to decide fate of U.S.-Russia summit

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WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plan to meet in Washington with their Russian counterparts Friday for a day of talks that could determine the fate of a September summit meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

State Department officials Tuesday afternoon confirmed the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the four officials would discuss "a number of pressing bilateral and global issues." She added: "There's a lot to discuss, a lot of issues we work together on. I expect those to be the thrust of the conversation."

Russian officials sounded a similar theme Tuesday. "We expect a very intensive discussion, all the more so because there are quite a few sharp, controversial and difficult questions," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

At the top of that list of difficult questions is certain to be the status of next month's planned meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin, which has been in doubt for weeks because of issues that include Russia's refusal to return National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the United States to face charges of leaking secrets.

U.S. officials have signaled that Russia's decision to grant Mr. Snowden temporary asylum undermined the relationship between the two nations and could affect whether Mr. Obama agrees to travel to Moscow next month. He is scheduled to be in St. Petersburg for a Sept. 5-6 meeting of the Group of 20, and had planned to go from there to meet Mr. Putin.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said a decision was forthcoming. "I think it's fair to say that you can expect that we'll have a decision to announce in coming days about that specific issue," he told reporters. "We obviously disagree with the Russians very strongly about the decision they've made on Mr. Snowden."

But Mr. Carney said the administration also disagreed with Russia on "a number of other issues, including Syria." And he said the decision on the two presidents' meeting would be determined by whether such a gathering could help make progress on a broader set of concerns.

Russian officials said they expected the presidential summit meeting to go on as planned. And they waved aside the U.S. assertion that the Snowden decision should affect whether Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin confront their disagreements face to face.

Russia's decision to grant Mr. Snowden asylum, Mr. Ryabkov said Tuesday, had been blown out of proportion and threatened to undermine cooperation on important international issues, including the conflict in Syria, Iran's nuclear program and the winding down of the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan. "The usefulness of contacts at the highest level is obvious to us," he said. He added that criticism of Russia's handling of Mr. Snowden's appeal was "simply absurd."

The relationship between Russia and the United States has bogged down over questions about nuclear weapons, a dispute over what to do in Syria, questions about Iran and other issues.

Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference Tuesday in Rome that imposing new sanctions on Iran -- such as those proposed in a bill the U.S. House passed last week -- would not be viewed as productive by the Russians. He also discussed the need to move ahead with Syrian peace talks that Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry agreed to in Moscow in May. "The more we delay calling it, the more victims there will be among civilians," Mr. Lavrov said, according to the Interfax news agency. He blamed the Syrian rebels for resisting opening talks with President Bashar Assad's government.

Mr. Snowden, meantime, remained in seclusion, having made no public appearances or statements since he left Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on Thursday. His lawyer, Anatoly G. Kucherena, said in an interview Tuesday that Mr. Snowden had received an official residence permit required for any foreigner to live in the country, though he again declined to discuss his client's exact whereabouts. He also said he had extended an official invitation to help Mr. Snowden's father and friends obtain visas to visit him in Russia.



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