By Jill Dougherty
Opening a meeting with top Russian officials, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to himself and to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as "old hockey players" who both know "that diplomacy, like hockey, can sometimes result in the occasional collision."
But he said at the State Department that Russia and the United States are "candid" about issues on which they agree and disagree and he is looking forward to a "very honest and robust discussion" on all issues in the U.S.- Russian relationship.
The meeting, which also includes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, occurred two days after President Barack Obama canceled a planned summit next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin following Moscow's decision to grant admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum.
The United States wants Russia to return Snowden to face trial on charges under the Espionage Act, but Russia instead granted him at least a year of asylum and he is in an unknown location in the country.
The administration cited a lack of progress in bilateral relations since Putin regained the presidency a year ago, but also noted in a statement that the Snowden development was a factor as well. Although, an administration official told CNN at the time that the talks with Putin were likely to have been canceled regardless.
Obama will still attend a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in early September, but now will go to Sweden beforehand instead of stopping in Moscow.
"It's no secret that we have experienced some challenging moments, and obviously not just over the Snowden case." Kerry said.
But he added the meeting with Russian officials remains important "above and beyond the collisions and the moments of disagreement."
He said it was important to make progress on the issues of missile defense and strategic issues, including Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear program, North Korea, and Syria.
On Syria, Kerry said "to avoid institutional collapse and descent into chaos" the ultimate answer is a negotiated political solution and the still-delayed Geneva II conference is a "step toward that solution."
Lavrov, in his opening comments, appeared to criticize Obama's decision not to meet with Putin, couching it in diplomatic language as a lost opportunity.
"We were preparing a package, a number of documents, for approval at the meeting between the two presidents," he said, adding there were to be statements on enhancing anti-drug cooperation and on nuclear issues.
The White House has referred to its decision as a postponement of the summit and Moscow insists that the invitation stands.
Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov was quoted in the Russian media as saying that Russia has no plans to "retaliate" for the decision and "hopes the U.S. will get back to the issue sooner or later."