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Kerry, Lavrov Hold 'Frank' Talks On Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of their meeting at the Russian ambassador's residence in Paris on March 30
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has held four hours of what he described as frank talks in Paris with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the crisis in Ukraine.

Kerry said he and Lavrov agreed diplomacy is the best way to defuse the Ukraine crisis.

Kerry said there will be no decisions on Ukraine without the Ukrainians.

"The United States is consulting with Ukraine at every step of this process and we will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table. This principle is clear: no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine," Kerry told reporters after the talks on March 30.

Kerry said he raised with Lavrov the "strong concerns" of the United States about the presence of Russian forces on Ukraine's eastern border.

"Any real progress in Ukraine must include a pullback of the very large Russian force that is currently massing along Ukraine's borders. And tonight, I raised with the foreign minister our strong concern about these forces. We believe that these forces are creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine," Kerry said.

At a separate briefing, Lavrov said Ukraine couldn't function as a unified state and instead should be a loose federation of regions that choose their own economic model, language, and religion.

Lavrov said he and Kerry agreed to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and to disarm "irregular forces and provocateurs."

"We agreed to work with the Ukrainian government and with the Ukrainian people in a wider way to reach fulfilment of peace on priority areas such as minority rights, language rights, achieving disarmament of the irregular forces and provocateurs, and achieving inclusive constitutional reform and conducting elections under international observation," Lavrov said.

The United States and European have imposed two rounds of sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes for some of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, to punish Moscow over its seizure of Crimea.

Western leaders say further sanctions, some targeting key sectors of the Russian economy including its natural gas and oil industry, could be imposed if Moscow continues to destabilize Ukraine.

The Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Paris comes before NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels on April 1-2 for talks likely to focus on Ukraine and Russia's actions.

On March 30, the top U.S. general in Europe was sent back from a trip to Washington in a step the Pentagon called a prudent move given Russia's "lack of transparency" about troop movements across the border with Ukraine.

A Pentagon spokesman said General Philip Breedlove, who also heads the U.S. military's European Command, will discuss "specific ways to provide additional reassurance for our NATO allies in Eastern Europe."

Breedlove had been due to testify before Congress this week.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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