Russian-U.S. 2+2 meeting to address missile defense, Syrian crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will take part in consultations with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in what is called the 2+2 format in Washington on Friday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will take part in consultations with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in what is called the 2+2 format in Washington on Friday.

It will be the first meeting in this format in a long time. The event was announced in early June, but it was finally confirmed only at the beginning of this week. Washington had long been reluctant to give a direct answer regarding the meeting because of the situation with former CIA employee Edward Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia on August 1.

U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jennifer Psaki told journalists that the Snowden issue would certainly be raised at the 2+2 meeting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, for his part, told Interfax that he saw "no topic for discussion there."

"The decision to grant him temporary asylum has already been made. All comments and assessments have been given," he said.

"We do not understand why the U.S. is blowing the situation with Snowden out of proportion. It emerged simply as a result of the activities of Snowden himself and certain agencies in Washington. We had nothing to do with this situation until the moment he [Snowden] appeared at Sheremetyevo [airport]. Even after it, we tried to avoid any developments that would be able to add something to this situation other than its purely humanitarian aspect and the decisions and choices made by Snowden himself," Ryabkov said.

Moscow's decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum for a year is believed to have prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to cancel his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in early September.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney cited a lack of "recent progress" as a reason for Obama's decision to cancel the face-to-face summit with the Russian president in Moscow in September.

"Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September," Carney said

"Russia's disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship," he said. Topics on which Russia and the U.S. disagree will be addressed at the August 9 meeting in Washington.

Some reports indicate that Lavrov could hold a bilateral meeting with Kerry.

Ryabkov told Interfax that "the sides will primarily address military-political problems and arms control, but they will also have time to discuss other bilateral topics, including specialized issues linked to contacts between the defense agencies."

"Special attention will be paid to the missile defense issue, which remains one of the serious irritants in bilateral relations. We hope that the American side is committed to holding a serious and constructive conversation in order to find mutually acceptable solutions to this problem," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Ryabkov, however, said that he was not anticipating any progress to be made in Russian-U.S. talks on missile defense in the near future.

The U.S. authorities announced in March that they had scrapped the final phase of their European missile defense shield. SM-3 IIB interceptors were to have been deployed in Poland. Washington, however, said it would still go ahead with its plans to place elements of its missile defense shield in Poland and Romania by 2018.

Ryabkov said that at a meeting with U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller in Brussels on August 5 "we once again sent a signal that the U.S. proposals made in spring this year look interesting to us."

"This is a step in the right direction, but they are categorically insufficient so that a compromise could be reached on their basis," Ryabkov said.

The U.S. proposals "lack a key element enabling us to judge with a guarantee that all statements that the U.S. [missile defense] system is not targeted against Russia and will not undermine the Russian nuclear deterrence potential are true," he said.

"We cannot talk about prospects for a compromise until a formula or scheme enabling us not just to rely on these assurances but act in order to be sure of this very nature of the system is worked out. And the differences in the positions on this issue are still quite significant," Ryabkov said.

Ryabkov also said that further steps in nuclear disarmament would not be possible until Russia and the U.S. managed to agree both on missile defense and other strategic stability issues.

The agenda for the August 9 meeting in Washington also "includes international topics such as conflicts and crises, among them in Syria and Afghanistan."

The sides may exchange opinions on Iran, where Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as president recently, because both Moscow and Washington hope that under Rouhani a solution will eventually be found to the Iranian nuclear problem, the deputy minister said.

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