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Kerry arrives in Moscow with third visit over last 12 months

March 23, 2016, 5:23 UTC+3 MOSCOW

In Moscow US State Secretary will have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin

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US State Secretary John Kerry

US State Secretary John Kerry

© AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool

MOSCOW, March 23. /TASS/. US State Secretary John Kerry will arrive in Moscow today for talks with the Russian leadership. This is the third visit of the US state secretary to Russia in the last 12 months. He previously visited Russia in May and December 2015.

In Moscow Kerry will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "US State Secretary and Minister (Sergey Lavrov) will inform the President about their contacts. During talks with the president, a rather broad range of issues will probably be discussed," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov noted that Syria and Ukraine remain on top of the agenda.

US State Department said that Kerry and Russian officials "will discuss ongoing efforts of the International Syria Support Group to maintain the cessation of hostilities, provide aid and improve and expand humanitarian access, and facilitate a political transition in Syria, while also combating Daesh (Islamic State terrorist organization banned in Russia)."

Experts note that Kerry’s visit to Russia will coincide with the visit of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Moscow.

Uneasy relations

"The situation in Russian-US relations remains uneasy," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "A series of confrontational steps made by Washington under the pretext of the Ukrainian crisis, has dealt a strong blow to cooperation," the ministry added. Since March 2014, Washington suspended the work of bilateral presidential commission, limited inter-departmental dialogue, introduced in several stages visa and property sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities.

Moreover, bilateral trade turnover shrank by a third in 2015 to $20 billion.

In the framework of pre-election polemics, US from time to time voices its concerns about the "Russian threat" which does not add anything positive to bilateral dialogue.

Moscow has repeatedly noted the importance of observing the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference into internal affairs in bilateral relations with Washington. "At the same time, we continue joint work with Washington in those spheres where such cooperation is in line with Russian interests and tasks of maintaining international security," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russia regularly raises an issue of 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 residing in the United States, especially on duly protecting the interests of adopted Russian children," the foreign ministry added.

Geneva closely watching

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday that he pins certain hopes on the upcoming meeting between Kerry and Lavrov. "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.

Meanwhile, the situation in inter-Syrian talks remains uneasy though certain progress is being made. Discussions of political transition arise heated debates as several representatives of the opposition are trying to precede the results of consultations by setting preconditions on excluding others from the negotiations process.

Moscow repeatedly noted that only Syrians themselves should decide on the country’s future on the basis of national accord as envisaged by the Geneva communique from 30 June 2012.

Russia’s envoy to UN and other international organizations in Geneva Alexey Borodavkin told TASS that Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) continues to insist on resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The HNC’s delegation should refuse ultimatums and demonstrate more flexibility, he added.

How not to harm ceasefire

Different statements on ceasefire observation in Syria are heard from Washington. Talking about observance of the established regime of cessation of hostilities, US does not accept Russia’s proposal to coordinate the mechanism of verifying the observation of ceasefire.

In this regard, the head of the main operations directorate of the Russian General Staff, Sergey Rudskoy said that from March 22, Russia is ready to unilaterally use force against armed groups systematically violating ceasefire in Syria. "We stress that military forces will be used only after reliable evidence is received on systematic violations by armed groups of commitments made in the framework of implementing the Joint Russian-US statement on cessation of hostilities in Syria from 22 February 2016," Rudskoy said.

US State Department noted that Russian plans go against February agreements.

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