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Kerry, Putin Reach 'Common Ground' On Fight Against IS Militants

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on December 15.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on December 15.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that a planned international meeting on the Syrian crisis will take place in New York on December 18.

Speaking after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 15, Lavrov said an agreement was reached on steps that will make cooperation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria more efficient and more coordinated.

Kerry said after his talks with Putin that the United States is ready to work with Russia to destroy IS.

He said he and Putin did reach "common ground" on which Syrian opposition groups would be invited to participate in the Syrian peace talks in New York.

Kerry said neither IS militants nor the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front would be involved.

Kerry also said he and Putin discussed an exchange of information on the location of antiterrorist operations in Syria.

Meanwhile, Lavrov said Moscow expects more exact information from Saudi Arabia about a 34-country Islamic coalition that Saudi Arabia announced on December 15 to help fight IS militants.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said members of that coalition on December 15 were discussing the possibility of sending special forces into Syria to fight IS.

Kerry's talks with Putin and Lavrov on December 15 were aimed at trying to bridge major differences with Moscow over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

It was Kerry's first meeting with Putin since Russia launched its bombing campaign in Syria in late September, targeting opposition groups that are battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Washington has accused Moscow of mainly targeting moderate Syrian opposition forces that are backed by the West in an attempt to prop up the regime of Assad, a key ally of Russia in the region.

At the start of his meeting, Kerry told Putin that the United States appreciated "the seriousness of your commitment in time and thought into these issues."

Putin said: "I know that, after our meeting in Paris, the American side prepared its proposals with regard to the settlement of a number of crises, including the Syrian one."

Assad A Major Sticking Point

Russia and the United States share a common goal of defeating the Islamic State, but see the question of Assad's fate very differently.

The United States and its allies insist that he cannot stay in power as part of a political resolution to the nearly five-year-old civil war, where government forces are fighting both Islamic militants and moderate opposition groups -- some backed by the U.S.-led coalition.

Russia, which is a longtime ally of Damascus, insists that it should be up to the Syrian people to choose their leader and that Assad's army is the force most capable of defeating IS fighters.

On the eve of Kerry's arrival, a senior State Department official told reporters that "we don't have a full meeting of the minds yet" concerning Assad's future.

That official said the Moscow talks would include "some of the details of a the hopes of narrowing the differences between us."

Kerry said late on December 15 that his talks with Putin and Lavrov did not focus on what can immediately be done about Assad, but rather, focused on the process of a political transition in Syria.

But he said he also told Putin and Lavrov that it was impossible for Assad to stay in power.

Moscow continues to insist that Assad should stay in power and that any regime change should be the choice of the Syrian people.

One indication of the continuing gap in the positions of Moscow and Washington came in the wake of a meeting last week of several Syrian opposition groups who agreed to unite to negotiate with Assad's government in peace talks.

While Kerry said "kinks" still needed to be worked out on the plan to unite the groups, the Kremlin rejected the outcome of the Riyadh meeting, saying the delegates there did not have the right to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition.

Kerry also said that he was looking for "common ground" during his December 15 talks in Moscow on efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Afterwards, both sides stressed the importance of implementing the Minsk agreements that were signed in February as a way to resolve the war between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists there.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on December 14 that Kerry would also encourage efforts by Russia to ease tensions with Turkey after Ankara shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border last month.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, TASS, and Interfax