Kerry advises Russian co-operation on Syria despite frosty Putin meeting

US secretary of state tells Russian president common interest in stable Middle East could bridge divisions

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

 

US secretary of state John Kerry sought Russian help yesterday in ending Syria’s civil war. He told President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that common interest in a stable Middle East could bridge divisions among the big powers.

Mr Putin, however, kept Mr Kerry waiting three hours before their Kremlin meeting, fiddled with a pen while his guest spoke and made no mention in his public remarks of the conflict in Syria, which has generated some of the chilliest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the cold war.

Mr Kerry struck a positive note as he set about trying to narrow differences to agree a plan for a settlement that proved elusive in Geneva almost a year ago.

“The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria – stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere,” he told Mr Putin.

“We have both embraced in the Geneva communique a common approach, so it’s my hope that today we’ll be able to dig in to that a little bit and see if we can find common ground.”

The United States and Russia endorsed a plan in Geneva last June that called for the creation of a transitional government in Syria, where at least 70,000 people have now been killed since March 2011, but which left open the question of what would happen to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow says President Assad’s departure must not be a precondition to end the war.


Israeli air strikes
Russia, backed by China, has

vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s crackdown on rebel groups.

The US is reluctant to give military aid to an insurgency that includes Islamists but Washington is alarmed that violence is continuing and may spread. Israeli air strikes have heightened a sense of urgency in a region strained by confrontations between Assad ally Iran and other Arab powers, as well as the hostility between Israel and its neighbours, notably Iran and Hizbullah.

Differences over Syria have deepened strains in ties between the countries but Mr Kerry’s visit is intended to help improve relations and pave the way for President Obama to hold talks with his Russian counterpart in September, when Russia hosts a summit of the Group of 20. Both are to meet at a G8 summit in Britain in June.

Speaking of Mr Obama, his secretary of state said: “There are many issues – economic co-operation, the challenges of North Korea, Iran, Syria and many other issues on which he believes that we could co-operate very significantly.”

Mr Putin, who accused Washington of helping foment protests against him last year, said he was glad to see him [Mr Kerry] in Moscow and expressed hope that relations would improve. Both sides have said they hope to increase co-operation on counter-terrorism after the Boston bombings.