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Syria and Ukraine to top agenda of talks between Lavrov and Kerry

March 24, 2016, 8:26 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The visiting US Secretary of State will also be received by Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry

Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry

© Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP

MOSCOW, March 24. /TASS/. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday will meet with US Secretary of State john Kerry who arrived in Moscow on a two-day visit on Wednesday.

The visiting US Secretary of State will be received by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "The Secretary of State and the minister will brief the president on their contacts, and a fairly wide range of issues will apparently be raised during the meeting with the president," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that the topics for discussion will include the Syrian settlement and the implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine.

However, according to Peskov, there is no fixed agenda.

The US Department of State said the agenda of Moscow’s talks would including efforts by the International Syria Support Group for the sake of the cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid and its better availability, promotion of political transition in Syria and the struggle against the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia as a terrorist group).

The sides are expected to raise the problem of international terrorism, especially in the wake of the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22. During his meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Lavrov called on the European to put aside geopolitical games and pool efforts to stop terrorists. The fact that the US top diplomat is heading for Brussels after the Moscow visit points to the topicality of this subject.

Uneasy relations

"The situation in Russian-US relations remains no easy," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "The series of confrontational steps Washington has taken on the pretext of the Ukrainian crisis dealt a heavy blow on cooperation." Since March 2014, Washington has frozen the work of the bilateral presidential commission, reduced dialogue between the two countries ministries and government agencies and has imposed sanctions on a number of Russian citizens and legal entities, which runs counter to international law.

Trade between the two countries in 2015 shrank almost by a third to $20.

Speculations about alleged "Russian threat" are occasionally voiced amidst election debates in the United State, which fact in no means adds positive background to the bilateral dialogue.

Moscow has been consistently stressing the importance of sticking to the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference into domestic affairs in relations between states. "We continue joint work with Washington in those areas where such cooperation meets Russia’s interests and promotes international security," the Russian foreign ministry said.

The Russian side insists on removing irritants created by Washington in the bilateral agenda. "We insist on stopping the ‘hunt’ of US law enforcement agencies on Russian citizens in third countries. We insist on ensuring the rights of our compatriots living in the United States, especially on duly protecting the interests of adopted Russian children," the foreign ministry added.

Geneva: the future of political process

The second round of intra-Syrian peace consultations ends in Geneva on Thursday. United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gave to understand ahead of Kerry’s visit to Moscow that he pins certain hopes on the Russian-US talks. "We are looking with great interest, expectation and hope that the talks in Moscow will be productive - and honestly, not everything will be solved in one day - but productive in the right direction to help us to resume the talks with much more in-depth address on the issue of political transition," de Mistura said.

De Mistura is working on a document highlighting the positions of both the government and opposition delegations. The United Nations envoy voiced optimism about the very fact of exchange of initiatives by the Syrian parties. However serious differences are still in place between Damascus and the opposition on the parameters of the political process and negotiating priorities. Meanwhile, opponents to the Syrian government admit they are still failing to unite into a single delegation.

The US Secretary of State said he would like to hear what Putin and Lavrov think about political transition in Syria. Washington traditionally interprets the term ‘political transition’ as Bashar Assad’s resignation. Moscow does not share this zero-option approach and reminds that under the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012 Syria’s future is to be decided by the Syrians on the basis of general accord.

Minsk agreements: not subject to change

Washington and Brussels seem to have a rather strange logic when they are speaking about the implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukrainian settlement. They tend to put all the blame for Kiev’s sabotaging these agreements on Russia which, as a matter of fact, is not a party to the conflict. Direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk is still lacking. There is no progress on the constitutional reform in Ukraine and the law on elections in Donbass. Ukraine has turned down the election date - in June-July 2016 - that was agreed in the Normandy Four format (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine).

The Russian foreign minister specifically underscored that the Minsk-2 package cannot be revised and cannot be frustrated.

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