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Kremlin Says 'Positive Signals' In U.S.-Russian Relations Despite 'Serious Differences'

By RFE/RL May 20, 2021

The Kremlin has said that what it called constructive talks between the top U.S. and Russian diplomats were a "positive signal" for holding a potential summit between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Iceland on May 19, with both stressing that their countries had "serious differences," but can still find ways to work together.

The meeting was the first high-level, in-person contact between the rivals since Biden took office in January. The meeting was held on the sidelines of a two-day Arctic Council meeting.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on May 20 said the talks between Lavrov and Blinken would help Moscow decide on the possibility of holding a summit.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, he said Moscow would analyze the talks before Putin made any decision on meeting Biden.

Peskov also hailed the U.S. move to waive sanctions against the Russian-controlled builder of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

During the meeting in Reykjavik, Lavrov said he hoped the leaders of the United States and Russia would define ways for relations between the Cold War foes to improve, even though their views "greatly diverge when it comes to our assessment of the international situation and our approaches toward how we should resolve it."

A U.S. official described the meeting as businesslike and productive but said there were no breakthroughs and that work on improving relations between Moscow and Washington will take place in the weeks and years to come.

The talks between Lavrov and Blinken covered a range of topics, including Russia's military deployment in and near Ukraine, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the release of two U.S. citizens held by Russia, and the proposed summit between Biden and Putin.

Lavrov declined to respond when asked whether Moscow had agreed on the proposed summit, Interfax reported. But he said he and Blinken would prepare proposals for a possible meeting.

The U.S. State Department, however, did not mention the possible summit in its statement on the meeting. The U.S. official said Blinken and Lavrov agreed to leave it to the Kremlin and the White House to announce the date for the possible summit.

Lavrov said Russia and the United States had to cooperate "in spheres where our interests collide," and that Russia's position was 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."

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken pushed for Russia to release U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, two former U.S. Marines imprisoned in Russia -- Reed on charges of assaulting a police officer, Whelan for espionage.

Blinken also raised concerns about Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border despite an announced pullback, the health of detained Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, and Moscow's actions against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.

Blinken reiterated that Biden wanted "a predictable, stable relationship with Russia" and said the two countries could work together on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, combating climate change, dealing with Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, and the war in Afghanistan.

"We think that's good for our people, good for the Russian people, and indeed good for the world," Blinken said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Interfax

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/us-russia-blinken-lavrov- arctic-council-diplomacy/31264235.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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