The Syrian crisis and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden overshadowed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry‘s meeting Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Brunei.
Lavrov declined to sum up his more than 90-minute meeting with Kerry, telling reporters only that their discussion was “excellent.” After saying goodbye to Lavrov, Kerry ducked back into the room where he had meetings scheduled with Asian leaders.
Kerry earlier said wanted to talk to Lavrov about Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s regime, which is fighting against opposition forces armed by Western and Arab nations. He said he wanted to discuss with Lavrov the possibilities of an international conference in Geneva to find a political resolution to the Syrian civil war, which has claimed more than 93,000 lives, and also about President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Moscow in September for an international summit.
Syria was also the focus of Kerry’s discussion with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. A senior State Department official said the two discussed ways to strengthen support to the opposition and step up plans for an international conference to resolve the Syrian crisis.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclosed details of the closed-door meeting, said Kerry and his Turkish counterpart also discussed how to expand the Syrian people’s access to humanitarian aid. He said both men expressed concern over recent Assad regime attacks on civilians in the central province of Homs and the influx of fighters from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
It’s unclear whether Kerry and his Russian counterpart discussed the case involving Snowden, which has strained U.S.-Russia relations. The Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass reported that the two did not discuss the case.
Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. on three charges of espionage, has been on the run since releasing sensitive NSA documents. He is believed to have been in the Moscow airport’s transit zone since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. The U.S. has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he had hoped to get asylum, has been giving mixed signals about offering him shelter.
Snowden has expanded his requests for asylum to more than 20 countries, including China, according to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group that has adopted Snowden and his cause.
After Snowden applied for political asylum to remain in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow that Snowden would have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wanted asylum there — and he added that Snowden seemed unwilling to stop publishing leaks of classified material.
Before the meeting, when a reporter asked whether he and Kerry would talk about asylum for Snowden, Lavrov scolded the reporter, saying, “Don’t shout at me, please.”
Three U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the Snowden case, have said Washington is trying to persuade Russia to deport Snowden either directly to the United States or to a third country, possibly in eastern Europe, that would then hand him over to U.S. authorities.
Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Russian foreign ministry issued statements detailing the meeting between Kerry and Lavrov.
Irritated by reporters who chased him down the hall after the meeting, Lavrov said, “I am on my way because I missed my lunch” and “You are absolutely crazy. I don’t know how you can work like this.”
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