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Washington reassesses relationship with Russia

President Barack Obama said Friday that the US should take time to reassess its relationship with Russia. US diplomats, meanwhile, said they made tangible progress with Russian counterparts over the Syria crisis.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks with their Russian counterparts over the crisis in Syria, Obama expressed frustration with President Vladimir Putin.

Obama said in a White House press conference on Friday that he was reassessing the US relationship with Russia because of the growing number of issues on which the two nations do not see eye to eye. It was the first time Obama had addressed the issue since this week's decision to cancel a summit meeting with Putin next month.

The tension comes after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, but Obama mentioned other points on which the two nations differ.

"The latest episode is just one more in a number of emerging differences that we've seen over the last several months," Obama said. Other differences include the Syria crisis, missile defense and human rights issues.

"It is probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia is going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship so that we're doing things that are good for the United States and, hopefully, good for Russia as well."

Thoughts on Putin

Obama called on Putin to "think forward as opposed to backward" and to leave the Cold War mentality in the past. As for his personal relationship with Putin, Obama downplayed the notion that the two men don’t get along.

"I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid. They’re blunt. Oftentimes, they’re constructive," he said.

Obama did point out, however, that Putin often looks like a "bored kid" in their meetings. "He’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom," Obama said.

Diplomats seek solutions

Kerry and Hagel, meanwhile, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu on Friday. Before the talks got under way, the top American diplomat said the Snowden affair was among the "challenging moments" the countries had recently experienced.

He also pointed out the importance of cooperative relations between the two nations.

"The relationship between the United States and Russia is, needless to say, a very important relationship, and it is marked by shared interests and, at times, colliding and conflicting interests," Kerry said.

The talks, in the end, were reported to have been pragmatic and constructive. The diplomats even said the Snowden issue did not dominate their talks, despite initial concerns.

In addition to the Syrian crisis and other global problems, the two sides discussed missile defense, an ongoing debate in which both sides need to find a solution for the placement of the missiles in Europe.

"We also need to understand that ... every country seeks greater protection," Shoygu said. "But that should not be done at the expense of Russia, for example."

Both sides have agreed to continue meeting on a regular basis to discuss global problems. The Russian and US leaders also agreed to hold the long-delayed Syria peace conference in Geneva in the near future. No date has been set.

tm/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)