US, Russia foreign, defence ministers to meet Friday: US official

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu on Friday in Washington, a US defence official said.

The so-called "2+2" meeting, to be held at the State Department, comes at a time of tensions between Washington and Russia over Moscow's decision to grant asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

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

The US defence official, who spoke on Tuesday to AFP on condition of anonymity, declined to provide details about the agenda for the talks.

But Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the New York Times: "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 on 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," Mr Carney said.

Snowden, a former US intelligence contractor, is wanted by the United States for revealing the existence of secret US electronic surveillance programmes 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, Mr Lavrov criticised 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 Mr Obama's proposal to reduce nuclear stockpiles, and Russia's opposition to US missile defence system programmes.

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