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With more at stake, US and Russia cool war of words over l'Affaire Snowden (+video)

The Edward Snowden affair elicited a round of threats and needling from US and Russian officials, but the two powers have appeared to pull back, mindful they have more consequential mutual interests.

By Staff writer / June 26, 2013

Transit passengers eat at a cafe with a TV screen with a news program showing a report on Edward Snowden, in the background, at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow Wednesday.

Sergei Grits/AP

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Washington

After the threats and the needling over the Edward Snowden affair, the United States and Russia appear to be settling down and accepting the reality that the two world powers have little choice but to live and work together.

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The arrival at Moscow’s international airport Sunday of Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor wanted by American authorities for leaking top-secret information on US surveillance programs, had US officials beginning with Secretary of State John Kerry warning Russia Monday of the “consequences” it risked if it didn’t turn over the fugitive.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be getting a bit of a thrill at the expense of the US as he made the case Tuesday for not turning over Snowden on the grounds of human rights – an issue the US Congress and many US NGOs cite in their criticisms of the Russian government.

But after the venting and the fun, both sides are pulling back to more reasoned positions. The changed tone reflects a mutual desire not to let the Snowden affair spoil the chances of the US and Russia pursuing more long-term and consequential mutual interests, including a political solution in Syria and continued cooperation on nuclear issues.

Secretary Kerry toned down his words, saying the US is not looking for a “confrontation” with Russia or any other country, and Mr. Putin said he did not wish to see the Snowden tempest “affect in any way the businesslike character of our relations with the United States.”

Even as Snowden reportedly remained at Moscow’s airport Wednesday – speculation bubbled that he might take Thursday’s scheduled Moscow-to-Havana flight before continuing to Ecuador, a country he has petitioned for asylum – some officials and US-Russia experts said they expect relations between the two powers to simmer down to where they were before the Snowden affair.

In other words, functioning and respectful, if not exactly warm or characterized by a long list of common perspectives. 

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