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FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  (Via interpreter) So Mr. Secretary of State, (inaudible).  I believe that (inaudible) this meeting is held on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council.  The OSCE, the organization, is designed to strengthen security cooperation on the basis of consensus of all participating states.  And today, we all – both Tony and me – have confirmed our commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and are the fundamental documents of our organization.

But it’s evident that we interpret these principles differently.  I have no doubts that the only way out of today’s crisis, which is indeed quite tense, is actually to seek the balance of interests, and I hope this is what we are going to do today.  Our meeting is quite short, but still our delegation wants to make a step on a way to implement the principled agreements reached by President Biden and President Putin in Geneva this year in June, which are – which imply that despite all the differences, which are quite deep and the leaders recognize that, both Russia and the United States should stick to a responsible approach, bearing in mind how important our two states are for the global stability and security, including in the Euro-Atlantic region.

We have a number of processes that have been launched after the Geneva summit.  I’m referring to the Strategic Stability Dialogue which meets quite regularly, and a third round is slated for the – early 2022.  We have maintained consultations and communication channels on cyber security is open.  There are internal problems.  I’m referring to the problems that both Russian and American diplomats have been facing.  So we had to create the commensurate conditions for American diplomats in Russia.  But I believe this is one of the problems that can be solved very quickly, thus sending a message that we are ready to cooperate, agree upon something, as our presidents have agreed upon.

And I would like to highlight that we are interested in making steps to regulate, to settle the Ukrainian crisis, and American colleagues have said on numerous occasions that they are ready to help by establishing a dialogue channel that existed before.  And we are ready for that and I would be interested in Tony’s explanations about the remarks he has delivered by stating what provisions of the Minsk agreement Russia has to fulfill.  I’m looking forward to hear the explanations so that I would understand what approaches the United States will stick to while considering the Ukrainian issue.

The fact that everyone is talking about the escalation of tensions in Europe on the border between Russia and Ukraine – well, you know very well how we treat this.  We, as President Putin stated, do not want any conflicts, but if our NATO partners have stated that no one has a right to dictate to a country that would like to join NATO whether it can do or not, we can say that every country is able to define its own interests to guarantee their security.  And we can refer to the principle of indivisible security envisaged in the EU and NATO documents, which is that no one can guarantee its own security at the expense of the security of others.  And NATO’s extension to (inaudible) will infringe upon our security, obviously.  This is what we are going to do, but I will stay here.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Sergey, thank you.  It’s always good to see you, and I think it’s also very important that we have opportunities to speak very directly and frankly, especially at this critical moment.  President Biden shared with President Putin when they met in Geneva some months ago the strong preference of the United States for a stable, predictable relationship between our countries.  It’s in the best interests of both of us – of our people, and actually, the entire world.

But, as we’ve made very clear in recent weeks, we have deep concerns about Russia’s plans for renewed aggression against Ukraine.  That would move us in exactly the opposite direction, and it’s simply not in anyone’s interest.  That’s not just our concern.  It’s a concern that is shared by many in Europe, and I think Sergey has heard that expressed over the last 24 hours here in Stockholm.  We have a strong, ironclad commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergey, including, by both parties, full implementation of the Minsk agreements, with Russia pulling back its forces.  The United States is willing to facilitate that, but – and again, in the spirit of being clear and candid, which is the best thing to do – if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences.

At the same time as we’re discussing this, we have shared interests that we are working on together, including a shared interest in Iran not acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Our colleagues are working together in Vienna as the talks proceed.  We’ll have an opportunity to talk about that too.  And as well, in the Caucasus, we welcome the resumption of a direct dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  There is a lot of work to do to try to build a lasting and just end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  I hope that we can work on that together as well.

And let me just say finally, in conclusion, before we get down to work, as we always do, as I always do, I will raise the cases of Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, two Americans who have been unjustly detained for far too long in Russia.  Their release is an absolute priority for the United States, one that President Biden raises on every occasion.

Having said all that, Sergey, thank you.  It’s good to be with you and let’s get down to work.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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