Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would still like to meet with their Russian counterparts on Friday, even though their boss just cancelled his Moscow summit with Vladimir Putin. They've got things to discuss: Syria, Iran, the 2014 Olympics, and missile defense, to name a few.
Whether the Russians decide to show for the planned meetings in DC after President Obama's diplomatic snub of Putin is a bit of an open question.
"It's their move now. We still think it's prudent to have this meeting," a U.S. official tells The Cable. "As of this moment we're planning to meet."
"There are a number of issues that are important for us to discuss," the official adds. "But we'll need to see if there's progress on any of those areas before bringing it up to the highest levels."
Both countries have reasons for keeping the lines of communication open, from nuclear arms to Syria's civil war. But Russia's refusal to handover NSA leaker Edward Snowden created a diplomatic rift between the two nations, which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney openly called out in a Wednesday morning 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," said Carney.
The tit-for-tat decision was decidedly "un-Obama," as Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, put it. But the White House came under significant pressure from members of Congress to retaliate against the Kremlin for harboring Snowden. Many of those Representatives are now applauding Obama's decision.
"The President was absolutely right to cancel his meeting with Putin," said Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "Russia's decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum was a deliberate provocation - and one I believe was designed to further undermine U.S.-Russia relations, which have already suffered from Russian intransigence on a number of other important issues. While our ties with Moscow are certainly important, we must show Russia that its harboring of a wanted fugitive like Edward Snowden will negatively affect our relationship."
The committee's Republican chairman responded to Wednesday's news in kind. "This should help make clear that the Russian government's giving Edward Snowden ‘refugee' status is unacceptable," Royce said. "Snowden should be sent to the U.S. to defend his actions in a U.S. court of law."
Hagel and Kerry will tackle issues besides the NSA leaker. But the White House has made it clear that prospects for significant breakthroughs were already slim. "Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last twelve months, we have informed the Russian Government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," Carney said.
Though some in Congress discouraged the White House against it, the President still intends to attend the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg beginning on September 5.