US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin agreed to intensify the drive for a political settlement in Syria but remained divided over Bashar al-Assad’s future.
After four hours of talks at the Kremlin on Thursday, Kerry said the United States and Russia had found common ground on the Syrian peace process and on taking the fight to the Islamic State jihadist group.
Before the meeting, US officials had suggested he would sound out the Russian leader about pressuring his ally Assad to step aside as part of the political solution, but afterwards little of this was said.
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Kerry noted that Putin had begun to withdraw the Russian forces that had been sent to shore up Assad’s rule, and had renewed Russia’s commitment to the political process under way at UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva.
“Russia will have to speak for itself as what it’s going to choose to do in order to help Assad make the right decisions, but we agreed today (Thursday)… that we will try to accelerate the effort to move the political process forward,” he said.
“We agreed on a target schedule for establishing a framework for a political transition and also a draft constitution, and the target is August,” Kerry said at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after the talks.
Lavrov told journalists that Moscow and Washington would now step up efforts to get the Syrian regime and opposition to hold “direct talks” in Geneva, where a round of negotiations that saw a United Nations mediator shuttle between the delegations concluded Thursday.
“As the immediate task we have agreed to push for the soonest start of direct talks between the government delegation and the whole spectrum of the opposition,” Lavrov said, calling for “a transitional governance structure” in the war-torn country.
Putin did not attend the final news conference, but he had unexpectedly warm words for the United States’ role in Syria at the start of the Kremlin encounter.
“We understand that what we have managed to achieve on Syria has only been possible thanks to the constructive position of the political leadership in the US, the position of President Obama,” Putin said.