Kerry: Russia a ‘significant contributor’ to progress in Syria

London Ukraine talks

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) said he agreed completely with the agenda laid out by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left) for their meeting in Moscow. | EPA

“Russia has been a significant contributor to the progress” the world has made on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in Moscow.

U.S. officials have repeatedly criticized Russia’s intervention in Syria as “counterproductive” — designed more to bolster President Bashar Assad than to degrade the Islamic State. But the tone of U.S. statements changed after President Barack Obama’s meeting in November with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when the two world leaders agreed on a broad diplomatic approach to ending Syria’s bloody civil war.

Kerry, ahead of their Moscow meeting, thanked his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and said, “I agree completely with the agenda you’ve set out.”

“What is important to note is that even when there have been differences between us, we have been able to work effectively on specific issues, and Russia made a significant contribution to the dialogue on the Iran nuclear agreement, and now in both of the Vienna discussions, Russia has been a significant contributor to the progress that we’ve been able to make,” Kerry told the Russian diplomat, referring to the Syrian talks that have taken place in Austria.

“More than a contributor, you personally have really been a co-convener and I thank you for the efforts you’ve made to lead us up now hopefully to getting to New York and building on the progress that’s been made,” Kerry continued.

The meeting between U.S. and Russian officials is just the latest among a string of interactions between both nations. Obama and Putin have met face-to-face three times since September, including last month’s meeting, which also touched on the situation in Ukraine and the broader Middle East.

Both the U.S. and Russia agree that the Islamic State is a threat to everybody and that there can be no negotiation, Kerry said. “These are the worst of terrorists. They’ve attacked culture and history and all decency and they leave no choice but for civilized nations to stand together and to fight and push back and destroy them,” he said. “And as President Obama said in New York, nothing would please us more than to resolve the differences of Ukraine and be able to move forward in the economic front and on other areas of important cooperation.”

U.S. officials are also trying to arrange a meeting in New York on Friday for Syria peace talks.

“I think the world benefits when powerful nations with a long history [of disagreement] have the ability to be able to find common ground, and today I hope we can find some common ground,” Kerry concluded.