Kerry calls for ‘common ground’ with Russia on Syria and Ukraine


By Matthew Lee, AP

MOSCOW–The United States and Russia need to find “common ground” to end Syria’s civil war and restore stability in eastern Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.

Opening talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before seeing President Vladimir Putin, Kerry said the world benefits when great powers agree in their approaches to major crises.

“Even when there have been differences between us, we have been able to work effectively on specific issues,” Kerry said as he began what are expected to be difficult discussions in the Russian capital. “Today, I hope we can find some common ground.”

Russia and the U.S. 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 the Islamic State group. The results of Tuesday’s meetings will determine whether or not a new international diplomatic conference on Syria will go ahead as planned Friday at the United Nations.

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.

Lavrov noted “outstanding issues” with the U.S. 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, Lavrov said the U.S. should use its influence with the government in Kiev to settle the conflict with the separatists by respecting a shaky cease-fire and moving ahead with political reforms in eastern Ukraine.

Kerry praised Moscow for having been “a significant contributor to the progress that we have been able to make” on Syria and said the U.S. and Russia both believe the Islamic State group must be eliminated.

However, ahead of his arrival, Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be looking for a “revision” in U.S. policy “dividing terrorists into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones.” It also complained that the U.S. was unwilling to engage in “full-fledged coordination” between the two powers’ militaries while both are conducting airstrikes in Syria.