Diplomats can get a little testy when under pressure.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, held a private pow-wow with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry today in Brunei, at the annual ministerial conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
Kerry, on a 12-day swing through the Middle East and Asia, had been anticipating the meeting for days. Russia and the U.S. have been on a collision course over the Syrian war and the case of fugitive former National Security Agency contractor and leaker Edward Snowden only served to increase tensions.
Hours before the meeting, news broke that Snowden, wanted by the U.S. for espionage in disclosing classified information on phone and internet data collection programs, was seeking asylum in Moscow — with Russia reporting now that he has rejected the country’s terms.
When Kerry and Lavrov posed for photographs before their private meeting, a reporter asked if they they would discuss the Snowden case.
“Don’t shout at me, please,” Lavrov said.
Kerry sought to deflect the question, taking Lavrov by the arm and ushering him away from the press.
“We will have a chance to talk about a lot of things,” Kerry told reporters.
By the time the meeting ended about an hour and 40 minutes later, Lavrov was in no mood to take questions from U.S. reporters stalking the hallway by his makeshift office.
“You’re absolutely crazy,” Lavrov told reporters following him with cameras and microphones. “I don’t know how you can work like this.”
While he had no interest in chatting up American reporters, Lavrov apparently did talk to some Russian journalists.
Interfax, a Russian news service, quoted Lavrov as saying he and Kerry hand’t talked about the Snowden case.
“No, we did not discuss Snowden,” Lavrov said, according to Interfax. “The president said everything yesterday,” he added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had said Snowden could remain in Russia only if he agrees to “stop his activity aimed at harming our American partners.”
Snowden has rejected those terms, the Russian government says today. Meanwhile, the anti-secrecy Web-site Wikileaks, which has been serving as a microphone for Snowden stuck in the international transit section of Moscow’s airport with a revoked U.S. passport, says he has sought asylum in several other countries.
Kerry said they had discussed the situation only briefly.
Kerry, who is wrapping up the two-day ASEAN conference today, was dogged by a separate spying issue: a report by German magazine Der Spiegel that the U.S. was bugging European Union offices.
“Lady Ashton did indeed raise it with me today,” Kerry said at a press conference yesterday, referring to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign chief. “I agreed to find out what the situation is and I will get back with her.”
Asked by reporters whether the U.S. was in fact bugging the offices of allies, Kerry claimed ignorance, saying his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East over the last week kept him preoccupied.
“I honestly haven’t heard about it, haven’t seen it, haven’t seen any of those reports,” Kerry said. “I need to find out what the truth, what the situation is.”