Kerry says to meet Putin in Russia next week

Kerry (left) will discuss the Syria crisis with Putin (right).
Kerry (left) will discuss the Syria crisis with Putin (right).PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he will meet with President Vladimir Putin in Russia next week on the crisis in Syria, after Moscow announced the partial withdrawal of its forces.

“I will be travelling next week to Moscow to meet with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in order to discuss how we can effectively move the political process forward and try to take advantage of this moment,” Kerry said.

In Moscow, Lavrov’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to the Russian news agency Interfax that the foreign ministry was making plans for a possible visit by Kerry to Moscow.

Kerry did not give a date for the planned visit, but his spokesman John Kirby later told reporters that it would be after Tuesday next week, when the US envoy returns from a trip to Cuba with President Barack Obama.

Earlier, the White House said “earliest indications” suggest Russia has begun an announced withdrawal of its forces from Syria, where they have been supporting Bashar al-Assad’s forces against opposition rebels.

Kerry said that this, along with the opening of indirect UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva, opened a window of possibility to find a negotiated solution to the five-year-old conflict.

“As we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of this horrific war, we may face the best opportunity that we’ve had in years to end it,” he said, ahead of a meeting with Georgia’s Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze.

“The cessation of hostilities has obviously not been perfect. I don’t know one that ever has been. And we have raised and we will continue to raise our serious concerns about violations when they occur.

“But with the cessation of hostilities largely holding, Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will remove half of its forces immediately and more perhaps from Syria and with the political negotiations reconvening this week in Geneva, we have reached a very important phase in this process.”