Top diplomats from the United States and Russia sparred politely in Iceland during their first face-to-face encounter, which came as ties between the nations have deteriorated sharply in recent months.
U.S. 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 Wednesday in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, a city with deep history in U.S.-Russian relations.
“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.
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 U.S. pipeline.
The meeting also followed a spate of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as U.S.-Russian relations threaten a return to Cold War lows. SOVEREIGNPH