Moscow, Mar 25: US Secretary of State John Kerry today voiced hope that Washington and Moscow could narrow their differences on Syria and Ukraine as he sat down for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kerry said he hoped the talks would be constructive and allow the nations to find a way to “rebuild and strengthen the relationship between the United States and Russia by proving that we know how to solve some serious problems together and building from there.”
Kerry hailed a cease-fire in Syria brokered by the U.S. and Russia, saying it had allowed Syrians “to taste and smell the possibilities of what it means to have a huge reduction in violence and to receive humanitarian assistance.” US officials “obviously also have some ideas about this and how we can most effectively make progress in Geneva and begin the very serious and difficult work of the transition,” Kerry said, referring to Syria peace talks in Geneva.
In a playful start to the talks, Putin noted that Kerry walked off the plane carrying his briefcase himself and joked that he must have brought some cash to bargain with Russia. Kerry replied, “When we have a private moment I will show you what’s in my briefcase and I think you will be surprised.” Switching to a serious tone, the Russian leader said he hoped for a constructive discussion that would “allow us to make our positions on Syria and Ukraine closer.”
Kerry is seeking clarity from Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as to where Russia stands on a political transition for Syria, particularly on the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad, now that a fragile truce is holding and UN-brokered peace talks are underway. The main Syrian opposition group has wrapped up the latest round of indirect peace talks by urging Russia to “use its leverage” on Assad’s government to fulfil international hopes for a political transition.
In Geneva, Bassma Kodmani, a leader of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told reporters today that it wants greater access for humanitarian aid and decried continued sieges by government forces on Syrian municipalities. The United States and Russia have been at odds over Syria since the conflict began more than five years ago, with Washington demanding Assad’s ouster and Moscow saying it is up to the Syrian people to determine their leadership. Kerry’s meetings were arranged after Putin made a surprise announcement last week that Russian troops would partially withdraw from Syria after five months of military operations in support of Assad’s government.