Kerry, Putin hold talks on Syria issue
Updated: 2013-05-08 08:00
US Secretary of State John Kerry takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow on Tuesday. Kerry arrived for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to restore frayed US-Russia ties and discuss the conflict in Syria. [Photo/Agencies]
Syria tops agenda, as Washington and Moscow share 'common interests'
US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to help find common ground over the conflict in Syria, saying Moscow and Washington had shared interests in the country.
"The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria - stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere," Kerry said.
Syria was expected to top of Kerry's agenda, as the 26-month conflict is threatening to spread across the region and Kerry is seeking to persuade the Kremlin to put more pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
Kerry is making his first trip to Russia since taking over as the chief US diplomat in February.
The visit also coincides with the first anniversary of Putin's return to the Kremlin for an historic third term on May 7, 2012, which heralded a new chill in relations between Moscow and Washington.
"I don't know if we will get an agreement or not, but we certainly think it is worth testing and trying to find some ways forward," a senior US State Department official said on Monday.
With events moving on the ground in Syria, it "is a time to talk to the Russians to understand that from our side we remain committed (to a political solution), and if they are as well then we need to think about how to work operationally to make that happen," the official said.
US officials were keen to emphasize the importance of the one-on-one meeting with Putin, which was a rare encounter between a top US official and the Russian leader.
Russia has long accused the West of worsening the Syria conflict by seeking to topple the government, saying Moscow is solely interested in seeing a peaceful solution to conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives in since March 2011.
The US and other Western states have in turn accused Russia of failing to use its influence with the government to halt the bloodshed and keeping up military deliveries to Assad.
Kerry's visit is taking place at a moment of particular tension after Israel launched air strikes in Syria which Israeli sources said targeted Iranian weapons destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Russia said it was "especially" concerned by the attacks, warning the violence threatened neighboring Lebanon. According to the Kremlin, Putin spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Syria conflict after the air strikes, but details of what was discussed have not been disclosed.
Kerry was also scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Lavrov has previously sternly warned Washington not to use claims that the Assad government has used chemical weapons as a pretext for launching military action.
Further complicating the picture, UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte said at the weekend that it might have been the rebels that used the deadly nerve agent sarin.
But a commission of inquiry later said there was no conclusive proof and the United States said it was "highly skeptical".
There are a host of other issues on the agenda of the talks, including last month's Boston Marathon bombings blamed on two brothers of Chechen descent, and US missile defense.