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US, Russia foreign, defense ministers to meet Friday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks in Moscow, on July 22, 2013
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks in Moscow, on July 22, 2013. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet their Russian counterparts Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu on Friday in Washington, a US defense official said

The foreign and defense ministers of the United States and Russia will meet Friday in Washington, with tensions high after Moscow granted asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The so-called "2+2" meeting will bring together US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, US officials said Tuesday.

The White House has said it is reassessing the "utility" of a planned summit between US President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin set for early September, following the Snowden move.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the situation in Syria, the new START nuclear disarmament treaty, Afghanistan and Iran would be on the agenda for the 2+2 talks.

When asked if the Snowden case would be discussed, Psaki said: "We have raised Mr Snowden with Russian officials many times in recent weeks -- and expect to do so again."

Russian Defence minister Sergei Shoigu inspects military exercises on July 16, 2013
Russian Defence minister Sergei Shoigu inspects military exercises in the Pacific Ocean region near the Sakhalin island on July 16, 2013.

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "We expect a very intensive discussion, all the more so because there are quite a few sharp, controversial and difficult questions."

The Obama-Putin summit had been agreed to in principle back in June, but Washington has since made clear the meeting is now in doubt, implicitly linking it to the Snowden affair.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday a decision on the summit would be made "in coming days."

"We obviously disagree with the Russians very strongly about the decision they've made on Mr. Snowden," Carney said.

Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor, is wanted by the United States for revealing the existence of secret US electronic surveillance programs that scoop up phone and Internet data on a global scale.

Other troublesome issues in the US-Russia relationship include Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a split over how to deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

In Rome on Tuesday, Lavrov criticized calls by US lawmakers for harsher sanctions against Tehran in the wake of the inauguration of new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani.

Washington and Moscow are also at odds over Obama's proposal to reduce nuclear stockpiles, and Russia's opposition to US missile defense system programs.

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