Kerry Compares Relations With Russia to 'Collisions' in a Hockey Game

Before meeting with Russian counterparts, Kerry and Hagel address tension.

ByDANA HUGHES @dana_hughes
August 09, 2013, 11:45 AM

Aug. 9, 2013 -- Secretary of State Kerry sat next to his Russian counterpart today and compared diplomatic relations with Russia to a hockey game with "the occasional collision."

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke before a conference that included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his counterpart. Kerry acknowledged that the two countries have faced "challenging moments" in their relationship.

The conference came just days after President Obama cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin following Russia's decision to give temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Kerry said the two sides recognize they have "at times, colliding and conflicting interests."

"Sergey Lavrov and I are old hockey players, and we both know that diplomacy, like hockey, can sometimes result in the occasional collision," he said.

But he also pointed out that the bilateral relationship remains an important one, and that on several issues Russia and the United States have already been cooperating and need to continue to do so.

"This meeting remains important above and beyond the collisions and the moments of disagreement. It is important for us to find ways to make progress on missile defense, on other strategic issues, including Afghanistan, Iran, on North Korea and Syria."

Besides the fate of Snowden, Syria has been a major issue of contention between Russia and the United States since the conflict began over two years ago. Kerry said that regardless of who is to blame for the current bloodshed, the one thing both Russia and the United States can agree on is the need for a political, not a military, solution to end the violence.

"Both of us and our countries agree that to avoid institutional collapse and descent into chaos, the ultimate answer is a negotiated political solution," said Kerry who added that figuring out a way to get the long-stalled Geneva II talks off the ground will be a priority at today's meeting.

He said that discussions would be honest and robust and "hopefully" very productive.

Speaking through a translator, Lavrov struck a conciliatory tone in his remarks.

Lavrov spoke specifically about the relationship between Obama and Putin, and how the two men came together at the G-8 Summit at Lough Erne last June. He talked about the relationship moving forward.

"We're preparing a ... package of documents for approval at the meeting between the two presidents," said Lavrov. He said he was referring to a joint statement on the development of U.S.-Russia cooperation in "The context of the 80th anniversary of resumption of the diplomatic relationship between our two countries we are celebrating this year."

On Wednesday, the White House announced it was cancelling a planned summit between Obama and Putin that was supposed to take place in Moscow during the G20 this month.

"We believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "Russia's disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship."

Pointedly, Lavrov never mentioned Snowden in his remarks today.

"Of course, we have disagreements. We'll continue discussing matters on which we disagree calmly and candidly" said Lavrov, who then complimented Kerry on his diplomatic manner. "I recall when I first met John in his capacity -- his present capacity, and we were having this initial conversation. He told me that our countries have a special responsibility. We need to work as grown-ups. And this is what we do. And we hope that this will be reciprocal."

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