Blinken, Lavrov Set For First Meeting Amid Tense Times
May 19, 2021 04:03 GMT – By RFE/RL
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are set to hold talks in Iceland on May 19 amid deteriorating relations between the global rivals.
U.S. and Russian officials said the two top diplomats will meet on the sidelines of an Arctic Council gathering in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, to prepare for a potential summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin next month.
But Blinken and Lavrov are likely to have more on their agenda in their first meeting since the U.S. diplomat took office following Biden’s January 20 inauguration.
U.S.-Russian relations are threatening to return to low levels of the Cold War era.
The two powers have multiple issues dividing them — including Moscow’s military buildup in and around Ukraine, maneuvering for position in the Arctic, Russia’s treatment of opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project through Europe, and U.S. accusations of Russian cyberwarfare and interference in Western electoral processes.
“It would be our preference to have a more stable and more predictable relationship with Russia,” Blinken said on May 18.
“At the same time,” he added, “we’ve been very clear that if Russia chooses to take reckless or aggressive actions that target our interests or those of our allies and partners, we’ll respond. Not for purposes of seeking conflict or escalating but because such challenges cannot be allowed to go forward with impunity.”
Blinken has warned that Washington is concerned over a military buildup in the Arctic, a region of strategic importance to world powers.
“We have concerns about some of the increased military activities in the Arctic that increase the…prospects of accidents…and undermine the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region,” Blinken told reporters in Reykjavik on May 18, a day before the start of a meeting of the eight-member Arctic Council in the Icelandic capital.
“What we need to avoid is a militarization of the region,” he added.
A day earlier, Lavrov — Russia’s long-standing senior diplomat — said, “Apparently, a [U.S.] decision was made to promote stable, predictable relations with Russia.”
“However, if this includes constant and predictable sanctions, that’s not what we need. Our attitude toward the U.S. includes the hope that normalized relations will be based on specific actions rather than words of which we have heard too many.”
Blinken has said their meeting is an important opportunity to test whether Washington and Moscow can find common ground and work together on other issues — such as climate change, the Middle East, Iran, and North Korea.
Reykjavik is the site of the famous 1986 summit between President Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.