Kerry to meet Russia's Lavrov in Rome on Sunday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Apec meeting in Beijing on Nov 8, 2014. Kerry and Lavrov will meet in Rome on Sunday, amid anger in Moscow over the prospect of new US sanctions and po
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Apec meeting in Beijing on Nov 8, 2014. Kerry and Lavrov will meet in Rome on Sunday, amid anger in Moscow over the prospect of new US sanctions and possible supply of US weapons to Ukraine. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Top US diplomat John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Rome on Sunday, amid anger in Moscow over the prospect of new US sanctions and possible supply of US weapons to Ukraine.

There had been confusion after the Russian embassy in Rome said the duo would meet Sunday while the US said it would be Monday.

A State Department official later clarified to AFP that the talks would indeed be on Sunday.

Despite the tensions over the separatist war in east Ukraine, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that "the main focus at their 17th meeting this year would be on the Middle East," where Islamic State militants have overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that the pair would discuss the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, as well as the crises in Ukraine and in Syria, where the United States and its partners are battling Islamic State fighters.

The announcement of the talks came a day after US lawmakers defied President Barack Obama and approved fresh economic sanctions against Russia.

The legislation also authorises, but does not require, Obama to provide US$350 million (S$459 million) worth of lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition and "tactical troop-operated surveillance drones."

Ryabkov said he expected Lavrov to raise the US Bill with Kerry in Rome.

"We see the passing by both houses the above legislative act as yet another demonstration of anti-Russian moods and attempts to dictate decisions to us that for us are categorically unacceptable," Ryabkov said.

On Friday, Kerry telephoned Lavrov to discuss "recent developments" in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the region, along with initiatives at the United Nations, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Kerry said he hoped to head off an end-of-year showdown at the United Nations over Palestinian statehood in meetings next week in Europe.

The Palestinians are carrying out a major campaign aiming to submit to the UN Security Council a draft resolution setting out a two- or three-year timetable for an end to Israeli occupation.

Russia and the United States both hold veto power at the UN Security Council.

Washington backs Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, but Obama has yet to approve the bulk of an arms request by Kiev.

The sanctions Bill was passed unanimously Thursday in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Moscow is concerned at what it sees as Nato's attempt to extend its reach along Russia's western border.

But Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending regular troops to back separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has claimed more than 4,300 lives since it broke out in April.