Blinken, Russia’s Lavrov meet face-to-face for first time as tensions develop


REYKJAVIK, Iceland — High 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 International 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, steady relationship with Russia,” Blinken instructed 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 individuals, good for Russian individuals and certainly good for the world.”

“It’s additionally no secret that we now have our variations and in terms 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 mentioned.

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The assembly came about simply because the Biden administration notified Congress of latest sanctions on Russia over a controversial European pipeline. The administration hit eight Russian corporations 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 important impact on the venture.

“We have now critical variations within the evaluation of the worldwide scenario, we now have critical variations within the approaches to the duties which need to be solved for its normalization,” Lavrov mentioned. “Our place may be very easy: We’re prepared to debate all the problems with out exception, however below notion that the dialogue shall be sincere, with the information on the desk, and naturally on the idea of mutual respect.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, greets Russian International Minister Sergey Lavrov, proper, as they arrive for a gathering on the Harpa Live performance Corridor in Reykjavik, Iceland, Wednesday, Could 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 chargeable 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 Warfare lows.

After the assembly, which ran for a longer-than-expected hour and 45 minutes, the State Division mentioned Blinken had known as for Russia to launch two People it holds, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. He additionally raised “deep considerations” 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 mentioned.

Lavrov, in the meantime, instructed 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 whole lot 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 won’t be a matter for us,” he mentioned, in line with the information company Tass.

A senior U.S. official known as the assembly “a great begin” with “no polemics” that had allowed either side to “tee-up a whole lot of the problems that the 2 presidents might 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.) resolution was made to advertise steady, predictable relations with Russia,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless, if this contains fixed and predictable sanctions, that’s not what we want.”

Blinken mentioned his assembly with Lavrov can be an vital 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 targeted on the Israel-Palestinian warfare.

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 blended legacy on Russia that included a pleasant private relationship with Putin, whereas his administration nonetheless imposed sanctions and different punitive measures.

One other, extra instant space of disagreement in Reykjavik, the location 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 develop its affect, to the alarm of the People.

Blinken famous that the U.S. and Russia have cooperated prior to now 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 inside the eight-nation Arctic Council.

Blinken rejected Russian calls to renew a navy element of the Arctic Council and expressed considerations about Russia’s rising navy exercise within the area referred to 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 take care of this area as one in every of peaceable cooperation.”

“We have now considerations about among the latest navy actions within the Arctic,” he mentioned. “That Will increase the hazards of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the shared purpose of a peaceable and sustainable future for the area.”

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

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“We have now to proceed all of us, together with Russia, based mostly on the foundations, based mostly on norms, based mostly on the commitments that we’ve every made and in addition keep away from statements that undercut these,” Blinken mentioned.

In his feedback Monday, Lavrov famous the grievances about Russia’s navy actions within the Arctic. “It has lengthy been widespread data that that is our territory, our land. We’re in command of maintaining the Arctic coast protected. Every thing Russia is doing there’s completely authorized,” he mentioned.

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 eliminate all non-American workers at its diplomatic missions, one thing the U.S. says will make it almost not possible for its services to perform.

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