Kerry Softens Tone With Russia in Snowden Dispute

“We are not looking for a confrontation,” Mr. Kerry said during a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart. “We are not ordering anybody. We are simply requesting under a very normal procedure for the transfer of somebody.”

Mr. Kerry’s comments came in response to a strong statement from Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, that rejected the suggestion that Russia had an obligation to hand over Mr. Snowden. Mr. Lavrov also insisted that Mr. Snowden, who Russian news agencies said had arrived in Moscow on Sunday aboard a Russian commercial flight from Hong Kong, “did not cross the Russian border.” That language appeared to be a technical way of saying Mr. Snowden remained in the international passenger transit area of the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow.

“We consider the attempts to accuse Russia of violation of U.S. laws and even some sort of conspiracy, which on top of all that are accompanied by threats, as absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable,” Mr. Lavrov said in Moscow. “There are no legal grounds for such conduct of U.S. officials.”

Mr. Kerry has invested a great deal in strengthening ties with Mr. Lavrov, whose relations with the previous secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, were strained.

Mr. Kerry has frequently met with Mr. Lavrov, famously taking a stroll with him to work on plans for a peace conference on Syria during a May trip to Moscow, and speaks to him by phone. Mr. Kerry is expected to meet with him again next week during a gathering of foreign ministers in Brunei.

On Monday, Mr. Kerry and other Obama administration officials took a stronger line with the Russians. Mr. Kerry warned then that the failure to hand over Mr. Snowden would have “consequences” for the United States’ relations with Russia and China. At one point on Monday, Mr. Kerry made a sarcastic comment about the lack of Internet freedom in Russia and China.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Kerry was more restrained. Asked about Mr. Lavrov’s comments, Mr. Kerry said, “I would simply appeal for calm and reasonableness at a moment when we don’t need to raise the level of confrontation over something as frankly basic and normal as this.”

Mr. Kerry acknowledged that there was no extradition treaty between Russia and the United States. “But there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations,” he said. “There is common law. There is respect for rule of law. And we would simply call on our friends in Russia to respect the fact that a partner nation, a co-member of the Permanent 5 of the United Nations has made a normal request under legal assistance for law to be upheld.”

Mr. Kerry stopped in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as part of an eight-nation trip that has focused largely on the Syrian crisis and his effort to revive the moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Kerry’s next stop is Kuwait and he goes to Jordan and Israel later this week.

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