John Kerry Arrives for Talks With Putin
Published: May 8, 2013 (Issue # 1758)
MOSCOW — U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, arrived Tuesday in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The talks are expected to largely focus on ways to end the two-year civil war in Syria.
Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has voiced hopes that Kerry’s visit will allow Russia and the U.S. to find a political resolution to the Syrian crisis instead of a military one.
Lavrov, speaking last Friday, said the visit should help the Russian government prepare “a most specific” reply to a confidential message that U.S. President Barack Obama sent to Putin last month. The message was passed to the Kremlin by Obama’s national security adviser, who visited in late April.
The U.S., which has supplied rebels with non-military equipment in Syria, has urged Russia, which has sold weapons to the government of President Bashar Assad for years, to stop supporting Assad.
Russia represents the most difficult diplomatic test as the U.S. tries to assemble a global coalition to halt a civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Russia, alongside China, has blocked U.S.-led efforts three times at the United Nations to pressure Assad into stepping down.
In Moscow, officials said Kerry would attempt to persuade Putin to support, or at least not veto, a fresh effort to impose UN penalties on Syria if Assad doesn’t begin political transition talks with the opposition.
Washington wants a peaceful resolution and sees UN-imposed sanctions against Syria as an effective tool for pressuring Assad into negotiations. With Assad’s government unwilling to talk with the opposition, and Russia providing military and diplomatic backing, hopes of a negotiated transition are all but dead for now.
To make his case, Kerry will present the Russians with evidence of chemical weapons use and relay the Obama administration’s readiness to give weapons to the Syrian rebels, according to the officials, who demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the confidential diplomacy.
Although the U.S. is prepared to act with or without the Russians’ help, officials say a coordinated effort to end the war would be much easier with Moscow on board.
China is seen as largely following Russia’s lead.
The U.S. also wants Russia, which maintains a naval base in Syria, to stop honoring existing contracts with the Assad government for defense hardware and to refrain from doing anything else to bolster his forces.
Unlike with Afghanistan and Iraq, several of America’s Western and Arab allies are significantly ahead of the United States in their readiness to intervene in Syria.
Kerry and Putin are also expected to discuss U.S. plans to build an anti-missile shield in Europe, Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions of children, and civil freedoms in Russia, Lavrov said.
Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, told Interfax that Putin and Kerry might also talk about North Korea, cooperation in Afghanistan and the agenda of an upcoming meeting of Putin and Obama at a Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland in late June.
Kerry’s two-day trip is his first to Russia after his appointment as the United States’ top diplomat in February. His plane landed at Vnukovo-2 Airport on Monday morning.
Political analyst Sergei Karaganov said Kerry’s appointment might help improve bilateral relations. He said ties were “distinctly cool” under former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, who “irritated many” Russian officials by her habit to “teach moral values,” reported Interfax.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, predicted that Kerry’s talks with Putin would be “complicated” due to “very different views” over Syria’s future and Russia’s “cautious attitude” on the anti-missile shield, Interfax reported. (The St. Petersburg Times and AP)