John Kerry to seek ‘common ground’ on Russia visit

John Kerry's agenda includes Syria, IS and Ukraine. Picture: AP
John Kerry's agenda includes Syria, IS and Ukraine. Picture: AP
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The United States and Russia need to find “common ground” to end Syria’s civil war and restore stability in eastern Ukraine, US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday.

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

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

Russia and the US 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 terrorist group. The results of yesterday’s meetings will determine whether or not a new international conference on Syria will go ahead as planned on Friday at the United Nations in New York.

On Ukraine, the two countries are split over a February agreement meant to end hostilities between the Kiev government and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov noted “outstanding issues” with the US on Syrian political transition that is supposed to bring representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government together with the opposition for negotiations by early January. And on Ukraine, Mr Lavrov said the US should use its influence with Kiev to settle the conflict with separatists by respecting a shaky ceasefire and moving ahead with political reforms in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Kerry praised Moscow for having been “a significant contributor to the progress that we have been able to make” on Syria and said the US and Russia both believe IS must be eliminated.

“Russia and the United States agree that this is a threat to everybody, to every country,” he said. “They are the worst of terrorists. They attack culture and history and all decency. It leaves no choice but for civilised nations to stand together, to fight and destroy them.”

However, earlier Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be looking for a “revision” in US policy “dividing terrorists into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones.”

It also complained that the US was unwilling to engage in “full-fledged co-ordination” between the two powers’ militaries while both are conducting air strikes in Syria.