Russia and the United States will hold two-plus-two talks between their defence and foreign ministers despite the spat over Russian asylum for whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington on Friday “as per agreement reached by the Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Lough Erne on June 17.”
The decision to go ahead with the two-plus-two meeting is the first sign that the Washington is trying to avoid disrupting ties with Moscow despite the Kremlin’s refusal to hand over Mr Snowden to the U.S.
Mr Obama has also decided to attend a G20 summit in St. Petersburg. Earlier U.S. officials did not rule out that top-level contacts may be frozen if Moscow grants asylum to Mr Snowden.
The former CIA official last week received temporary asylum in Russia. He left the transit zone of a Moscow airport where he had been holed up in limbo for five weeks and settled down in a Moscow flat provided by “his friends.”
Washington is still holding out the threat of cancelling a bilateral summit with Mr Putin in Moscow ahead of the G20 meeting. The White House said it was “deeply disappointed” and was “evaluating the utility” of the summit.
The coming meeting of the top diplomatic and defence officials of Russia and the U.S. the two countries will be the first bilateral interaction in this format during Mr Obama’s presidency. The last time two-plus-two met was in 2007, when George W. Bush was still President.
The State Department said Mr Snowden’s case would among the issues raised at the Washington talks. The Russian Foreign Ministry, by contrast, failed to mention Mr Snowden. It said “special attention” will be given to the U.S. missile defence, which is “a serious irritant in bilateral relations.”
Other issues on the agenda listed by Moscow were arms control, space security, non-proliferation, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran.