Monday 19 February 2018

John Kerry: US and Russia must find common ground on Syria and Ukraine

Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with US secretary of state John Kerry during their meeting in the Kremlin (Sergei Karpukhin via AP)
Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with US secretary of state John Kerry during their meeting in the Kremlin (Sergei Karpukhin via AP)
US secretary of state John Kerry stops in front of a Dunkin' Donut shop while souvenir shopping in Moscow (Mandel Ngan via AP)

The US and Russia must find common ground to end Syria's civil war and restore stability in eastern Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry said as he met with President Vladimir Putin.

"Together the United States and Russia have the ability to make a significant difference here," Mr Kerry told Mr Putin as they began meeting at the Kremlin.

Perhaps seeking to ease some tension in what were expected to be tough talks, Mr Kerry praised Russia's role in seeking to create a political transition process for Syria with other nations, including the US.

He said: "It's been a good co-operative effort, and we're very appreciative for what has been achieved so far."

Mr Putin offered only perfunctory comments at the start of the meeting, but noted that "together, we are looking for ways out of the most urgent crises", despite several "outstanding issues".

Earlier, in talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Mr Kerry said the world benefits when great powers agree in their approaches to major crises.

He said: "Even when there have been differences between us, we have been able to work effectively on specific issues. Today, I hope we can find some common ground."

Russia and the US are at odds over the mechanics of a political transition aimed at halting the war in Syria, as well as the military approach to fighting Islamic State.

The results of Tuesday's meetings will determine whether or not a new international diplomatic conference on Syria will go ahead as planned at the United Nations on Friday.

On Ukraine, the two countries are split over the implementation of a February agreement meant to end hostilities between the Kiev government and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov noted "outstanding issues" with the US on the Syrian political transition that is supposed to bring representatives of Syrian president Bashar Assad's government together with the opposition for negotiations by early January.

And on Ukraine, he said the US should use its influence with the government in Kiev to settle the conflict with the separatists by respecting a shaky ceasefire and moving ahead with political reforms in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Kerry praised Moscow for having been "a significant contributor to the progress that we have been able to make" on Syria and said the US and Russia both believe Islamic State must be eliminated.

He said: "Russia and the United States agree that this is a threat to everybody, to every country.

"They are the worst of terrorists. They attack culture and history and all decency. It leaves no choice but for civilised nations to stand together, to fight and destroy them."

However, ahead of his arrival, Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow would be looking for a "revision" in the US policy of "dividing terrorists into 'bad' and 'good' ones".

It also complained that the US was unwilling to engage in "full-fledged co-ordination" between the two powers' militaries while both are conducting air strikes in Syria.

After his lengthy meeting with Mr Lavrov, Mr Kerry took time out for a brief stroll through Moscow's Stary Arbat pedestrian shopping street, stopping at stores including a Dunkin' Donuts under a light snow and exchanging greetings with Russians.

Press Association

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