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After Snowden, no business as usual for US and Russia

After causing weeks of embarrassment for the US intelligence community, the Edward Snowden saga has now cast  a shadow over international efforts to end the Syrian civil war and deal with Iran, and could also undermine White House  hopes for a nuclear arms reduction deal.

Russia’s decision on Thursday to grant asylum to Snowden threatens to send already-strained relations between the US and Russia to the lowest point in years and further complicate efforts to work out geopolitical challenges. With Russia’s sheltering of the former US spy agency contractor seen as a slap in the face to president Barack Obama, the White House is weighing whether he should now back out of a Moscow summit in early September, in a direct snub to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The fact that Washington is even issuing such a threat underscores the potentially damaging repercussions for any prospects of reconciling the two former Cold War rivals on thorny global issues that go well beyond the fate of a single 30-year-old hacker trying to evade US prosecution, analysts say. The two men are highly unlikely to sort out all their many differences even if the summit goes ahead as planned.

They have bad personal chemistry and previous meetings have been awkward and unproductive. While the Kremlin played down any bilateral friction, Obama administration officials and top lawmakers suggested it would not be business as usual now that Russia has given Snowden a year’s asylum and allowed him to leave Moscow’s airport after more than five weeks in limbo.

‘The political climate in Washington on Russia is poisonous,’ said Andrew Weiss, a former Russia adviser to president Bill Clinton. ‘There was already plenty of anger toward Russia brewing in the political establishment. Snowden is an  accelerant.’ The long list of US differences with Russia is topped by Moscow’s support for president Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war even as Obama has led international calls for him to step aside.

Worsened ties between the United States and Russia could now make it even more difficult for them to cooperate in arranging Syrian peace talks aimed at a political solution. With Iran about to install newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who has signaled greater willingness to negotiate over its disputed nuclear programme, there are also concerns in Washington that Russia may break ranks with Western countries seeking to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions through tough sanctions.
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