U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow Tuesday and began talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with an aim to restore stability in Syria and eastern Ukraine. Kerry, who is seeking to lay the groundwork for a fresh round of talks over a political transition in Syria, will also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later Tuesday.
“I look forward to making real progress,” Kerry reportedly said at the start of talks with Lavrov. “I think the world benefits when powerful nations with a long history with each other have the ability to be able to find common ground.”
Both Lavrov and Kerry said that the protracted crisis in Syria -- which has pitted U.S.-backed rebels against Russia-backed President Bashar Assad -- and the spread of the Islamic State group, would be key issues discussed during their meeting.
Russia has long insisted that curbing the spread of ISIS is far more important than a political transition in Syria, which is an issue the two countries remain divided on.
“The issue of combating terrorism is broader than the Syrian crisis. I’ve returned from the conference on Libya, where terrorism sprouts up as well. ISIS operates in Iraq, [and] there are manifestations in Yemen and Afghanistan,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.
While the U.S. and its allies have insisted that Assad must leave office for the peace process to progress, Russia and Iran disagree, stating that only Syrian voters should have the right to decide his fate.
Russia also launched a campaign of airstrikes in Syria late September, which it claims targets only ISIS strongholds. The U.S. and its allies, however, have accused Moscow of also targeting rebels fighting Assad's forces.
During his opening remarks Tuesday, Lavrov reportedly acknowledged these “outstanding issues” over the political transition in the war-torn nation.
Meanwhile, on Ukraine -- where the U.S. and Russia are split over the implementation of a February agreement that sought to end hostilities between the Kiev government and Moscow-backed separatists in the east -- Lavrov said that American involvement might even be a “positive factor.”
“Of course, we would like to continue the discussion of our presidents about the United States’ possible contribution to the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” Lavrov was quoted as saying. “Taking into account Washington’s influence on Kiev, it would be a positive factor.”