Top U.S., Russian officials to meet amid high tensions

AFP-JIJI

The foreign and defense ministers of the United States and Russia will meet Friday in Washington, with tensions high after Moscow granted asylum to American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The so-called 2+2 meeting will bring together U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, American officials said Tuesday.

The White House has said it is reassessing the “utility” of a planned summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin set for early September, following the Snowden move. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the situation in Syria, the New START nuclear disarmament treaty, Afghanistan and Iran would be on the agenda for the 2+2 talks.

When asked if the Snowden case would be discussed, Psaki said: “We have raised Mr. Snowden with Russian officials many times in recent weeks — and expect to do so again.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “We expect a very intensive discussion, all the more so because there are quite a few sharp, controversial and difficult questions.”

The Obama-Putin summit had been agreed to in principle in June, but Washington has since made clear the meeting is now in doubt, implicitly linking it to the Snowden affair.

The former U.S. intelligence contractor is wanted by the United States for revealing the existence of secret National Security Agency electronic surveillance programs that scoop up phone and Internet data on a global scale.

Washington revoked Snowden’s passport and demanded he be sent back to face charges of espionage over the leaks. He was recently allowed to relocate to a secret safe house after being marooned in Moscow’s airport for five weeks.

During an appearance later Tuesday on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Obama spoke on Snowden and Russia’s anti-gay measures, saying Moscow occasionally displays a “Cold War mentality.”

Still, Obama insisted he would attend next month’s Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but did not say whether he would meet with Putin for one-on-one talks.