U.S., Russian Diplomats Stress Cooperative Approach Despite ‘Serious Differences’

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet on May 19 in Reykjavik, Iceland.  

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was "constructive," but also stressed "serious differences" in the way the two countries view the world.

As the meeting got under way in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 19, 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 business-like and productive but said there were no breakthroughs and work on relations between Moscow and Washington will take place in the weeks and years to come.

The top U.S. and Russian diplomats met for their first high-level, in-person talks since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January. The meeting was held on the sidelines of a two-day Arctic Council meeting

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 a proposed summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir 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 "serious differences in the assessment of the international situation " but have to cooperate "in spheres where our interests collide."

Lavrov described Russia’s position as 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 the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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, and Interfax

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