MESOP Syria Daily: Warm Words But No Substance from Kerry-Putin Meeting

 Scott Lucas – 25 March 2016 – eaworldview – US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin have exchanged warm words, but revealed little of substance in a four-hour meeting in Moscow about Syria’s crisis.

Kerry said at the start of Thursday’s talks: The serious approach that we have been able to cooperate on has made a difference to the life of people in Syria and to the possibilities of making progress on peace,” Kerry said at the start of talks with Putin in Moscow.The people of Syria and the people of the region have as a result been able to taste and smell the possibilities of what it means to have a huge reduction of violence and receive humanitarian assistance.

Putin replied: We understand that what we have been able to achieve on Syria has been possible only thanks to the position of the U.S. top political leadership, President Obama. I very much hope that your visit will allow us to bring our positions closer on moving forward to solve the Syrian crisis and…on Ukraine.

After the meeting, Kerry said the two sides had “agreed on a target schedule for establishing a framework for a political transition and also a draft constitution, both of which we targeted by August”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was also in the discussion, said that the US and Russia “agreed to push for the soonest start of direct talks between the government delegations and the whole spectrum of the opposition…[about] a transitional governance structure”.

Russia’s military intervention from last September, coupled with an effort for international talks, has led to the renewal of talks in Geneva trying to bring regime and opposition-rebel delegations together for negotiations. However, President Assad and his inner circle have continued to hold out against direct talks, insisting that Assad’s future cannot be part of the discussions brokered by UN envoy Sergei Lavrov. On March 14, Putin suddenly announced that Russia will withdraw “most” of its forces from Syria. There have been signs, but no confirmation, that Moscow may be distancing itself from Assad while wanting to ensure that elements of his regime retain power in a political transition.

As talks adjourned after 10 days on Thursday, de Mistura said, “We have to start focusing on the political process.”

The envoy’s working document for both sides calls for implementation of a UN resolution guaranteeing the political transition.The text also calls for an unequivocal rejection of terrorism, reform of state institutions, a “democratic, non-sectarian” state, rebuilding of the Syrian army on “national criteria”, and preservation of women’s rights in fair representation.


In an interview with Russian State outlet TASS, Kerry hailed a “very productive relationship” with Lavrov and said, “President Putin has been very gracious to spend time with me when I’ve come here and to work at trying to find a solution to very complicated issues.”

Kerry declared, “We’re actually very pleased that Russia is concerned about that extremism and wants to fight against Daesh [the Islamic State] and other extremists.”

The Secretary of State’s comments on Syria were solely about that “extremism” rather than issues about the Assad regime and political transition: Russia is threatened by what is happening in Syria. You have Chechens who are fighting on the ground in Syria, several thousands of them. And we share the concern that President Putin has about the potential return of those terrorists to the motherland. Nobody wants to see that happen. We also don’t want to see those people going to Brussels, going to Paris, going to other parts of the world and blowing people up.