President Vladimir Putin showed up for his Sochi meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry today, prompting Kerry to gush at a press conference later that he was “particularly grateful” to Putin “for the very significant and serious conversation that he engaged in, for the very significant amount of time that he committed to this discussion.”
“And I express President Obama’s gratitude for Russia’s willingness to engage in this discussion at a time when the exchange of views could not be more important,” Kerry continued. “So we thank them for talking through these issues face-to- face as we try to come together and find workable solutions to very important issues to all of us.”
Putin’s website led with a story about his meeting with defense ministers and the military-industry complex. Underneath that was a brief about his Kerry meeting: “Vladimir Putin received United States Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Secretary arrived at the Russian leader’s Sochi residence after his talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”
The Kremlin released two photos of the meeting, both with Putin giving Kerry his characteristic power smirk.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two parties talked about Ukraine and the “contradiction and divergences between Russia and the U.S.” along with “ways to settle the conflict in Syria.” Russia has been a key arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad.
“Among other things, we shared our views on the implementation of our agreements aimed at resolving the Iran’s nuclear program. We also discussed the situation in Yemen, Libya, and other Middle East countries. We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, in the Korean Peninsula, and we emphasize that both U.S. and Russia are advocating denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Lavrov said.
“Of course, we discussed the state of our bilateral relations, including some specific irritators that have been in place recently. But in a broader context, we also discussed our views related to bigger problems that had been accumulating for several years. Sometimes our opinions diverged and we did not always find common understanding of the issues.”
Putin, Lavrov said, “firmly emphasized that we are ready for as broad cooperation as possible and as close interaction as possible with the U.S.A. based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other.”
Kerry said he’s “grateful” to Putin for “his directness, and for his very detailed explanations of Russia’s position with respect to some of these challenges.”
On Syria, Lavrov said “there should be no attempts to use the issue of alleged use of chemical weapons to exercise any political pressure.”
Assad has been attacking communities with chlorine gas since the Russian-forged agreement to dispose of his chemical weapons stockpiles.
“With regard to Syria, our positions with our U.S. partners are very similar,” Lavrov said. “We believe that this process should be representatives, but given the contradictions within the opposition groups themselves, it is very important that all the external actors that can influence these other group have to encourage them to continue negotiations and to implement the Geneva communique as of June 30th. And it requires work with different Syrian groups and units, and it also requires participation of some external actors. We have discussed that today as well.”
In response to a Russian media question about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowing to eventually recpature and rebuilt Donetsk Airport, Kerry said he hadn’t heard the speech but unleashed some criticism on the Ukrainians anyway.
“If indeed President Poroshenko is advocating an engagement in a forceful effort at this time, we would strongly urge him to think twice not to engage in that kind of activity, that that would put Minsk in serious jeopardy. And we would be very, very concerned about what the consequences of that kind of action at this time may be,” Kerry said.
Kerry acknowledged Poroshenko may have been talking about operations in the long term, but “I do know that resort to force by any party at this point in time would be extremely destructive at a moment when everyone has brought together the working groups, the working groups have met, and the working groups have an ability to try to provide a path forward on all of those issues that many of us have been concerned about over the course of the last months.”
“I absolutely agree to what John Kerry – John has just said,” Lavrov said.