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Blinken, Russia's top diplomat Lavrov meet for first time in Iceland

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22. Photo by Al Drago/UPI
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

May 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Iceland on Wednesday in the first high-level discussions between the nations under the Biden administration.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Arctic Council meetings, Blinken opened the meeting with Lavrov by reiterating that the United States would retaliate against Russian aggression, adding it is "no secret that we have our differences."

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"When it comes to those differences, as President Biden has also shared with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we'll respond," said Blinken. "And President Biden has demonstrated that in both word and deed -- not for purposes of escalation, not to seek conflict, but to defend our interests."

Blinken noted, however, that there are many areas where U.S. and Russian interests "intersect and overlap" such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.

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"It's our view that if the leaders of Russia and the United States can work together cooperatively, our people, the world can be a safer and more secure place, and that's what we seek," he said.

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Lavrov also stressed the importance of relations between the United States and Russia but made clear that the two nations "greatly diverge" in the assessment of international affairs and approaches to resolve them.

"Our position is clear," said Lavrov. "We are prepared to discuss all issues on the table with the understanding that our discussions will be honest, factual and with mutual respect."

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In response to Blinken's comments about the United States responding to Russian aggression, Lavrov suggested Russia would also be prepared with its own response.

"Laws of diplomacy recommend mutuality, especially when it comes to response to any kind of hostile actions," he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said after the meeting that Blinken expressed the United States seeks "a more stable and predictable relationship" with Russia.

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Price added that Blinken called on Russia to release ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is being held in the country on espionage charges, and former Marine Trevor Reed, who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for assaulting a police officer.

Earlier this month, Biden said he plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Europe next month. The two are expected to address an extension of the New START nuclear arms treaty and Russia's increasing aggression in Ukraine.

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