WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- The foreign and defense ministers of the United States and Russia agreed on Friday to host a peace conference on Syria in Geneva as early as possible, reaffirming their belief in a political settlement of the protracted conflict in the Arab country.
Syria has been a source of friction between the two powers, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoygu, reached the consensus following their "2+2" meeting in Washington.
"On Syria, I think both sides agreed that they remain committed to holding a Geneva II conference as early as is practically possible, both stressing the belief that a political settlement is the only way to prevent sort of institutional collapse and further instability in Syria," a senior State Department official told reporters via teleconference.
And the ministers agreed on follow-up discussions over ways to help reduce the growing humanitarian crisis ensuing from Syria's conflict that started in March 2011.
In their four-hour talks, the ministers focused on strategic stability, missile defense, political-military cooperation and regional security that included Syria, Afghanistan and nuclear issues relating to Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, senior officials said.
The ministers agreed to look for ways to work together on missile defense, missile defense cooperation and explore the possibilities of further nuclear reductions.
Kerry raised the issue of Edward Snowden, the latest source of tension between Washington and Moscow, reiterating the U.S. disappointment over Russia's granting of temporary asylum to the fugitive American intelligence leaker on Aug. 1 despite repeated calls for his return to face charges at home by the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, the White House announced the cancellation of a planned summit between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, originally slated for early September when Obama goes to Russia for the G20 summit, on the grounds that no "enough recent progress" had been made in bilateral agenda.
Spokesman Jay Carney cited disagreements over missile defense, arms control, trade and commerce, security, human rights and Snowden.
Addressing reporters at the Russian embassy in Washington, the Russian side said the whole relationship had been sidetracked by the Snowden case, and called the summit's dropping a "shortsighted" response.
Kerry and Hagel also had separate meetings with their counterparts. Notably, the defense ministers agreed to establish a regular video link between themselves, and Washington was invited to observe a joint Russia-Belarus military exercise named Zapad 2013 that will involve some 13,000 troops at nine training ranges in the two countries.
U.S. officials described the tone of the whole meetings as "positive and constructive throughout," saying the ministers agreed to continue the 2+2 format, last held in Moscow in October 2007.
In his press conference at the White House on Friday, Obama spoke of "mixed success" in his dealings with Russia since he took office in January 2009.
He mentioned "a lot of progress" made in his "reset" in ties with Russia under former President Dmitry Medvedev, including the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and cooperation on Iran and talks over Russia's accession to WTO.
He argued for a reassessment and calibration of the relationship with Russia in light of its chilly status.
"It is probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia's 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," he explained.
"And my hope is that over time Mr. Putin and Russia recognize that rather than a zero sum competition, in fact, if the two countries are working together, we can probably advance the betterment of both peoples," he added.