U.S., Russian diplomats exchange stern words ahead of Biden-Putin summit

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that the United States would respond to provocations from the Kremlin but that Washington seeks a “predictable” relationship with Moscow.

Blinken met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. The bilateral session is designed to set the stage for a potential summit between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin in the coming weeks.

The United States and Russia are at odds on multiple fronts, from the ongoing conflict in U.S.-backed Ukraine to concerns about Russian interference in American elections. Russia has denied any wrongdoing and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy and inappropriate interference in its domestic sphere.

The Biden administration has already leveled multiple sanctions against Russia over an array of past alleged activities, while also expelling several Russian diplomats. Russia has taken some retaliatory measures, including steps that have made it difficult to staff the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

As Lavrov and Blinken met, the Biden administration announced that it would sanction several entities affiliated with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany, but that it would waive sanctions on some of the officials involved. The pipeline has been a sore point between the U.S. and its ally Germany.

Blinken and Lavrov appeared to greet each other warmly on Wednesday, bumping elbows at the top of the mostly private meeting. In opening remarks, both men struck firm but cordial tones.

“As President Biden has also shared with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners and our allies, we’ll respond — and President Biden has demonstrated that in both word and deed, not for purposes of escalation, not to seek out conflict, but to defend our interests,” Blinken said, according to The Associated Press.

Blinken also stressed that the U.S. seeks “a predictable, stable relationship with Russia,” which would be “good for the world.”

Lavrov, a veteran in international diplomacy, said the two sides needed to be frank.

“We have serious differences in the assessment of the international situation, we have serious differences in the approaches to the tasks which have to be solved for its normalization,” Lavrov said. “Our position is very 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.”

Both countries have said they hope to work with the other to address common challenges, such as pandemics and climate change.

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