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Lavrov and Kerry Meet Ahead of Syrian Peace Conference

Published: January 15, 2014 (Issue # 1793)



  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lightens the mood by gifting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov two Idaho potatoes.
    Photo: Pablo Martiniez Monsivais / AP

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Monday to discuss the long-awaited Syrian peace conference, which is scheduled for next week in Switzerland but still does not have the confirmed participation of Syrian opposition groups.

Topics such as the exchange of captives, humanitarian aid and a ceasefire will also be discussed, Lavrov said, adding that Russia, the U.S. and the United Nations had urged the Syrian government and opposition to agree on a ceasefire and exchanging captives by the beginning of the peace talks.

Russia and the U.S. have sparred over how to seek a resolution to the civil war in Syria, but Lavrov and Kerry have managed to reach agreement on certain steps toward peace, including convincing the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles and to participate in the planned talks with the opposition.

In recent months, the two countries’ positions on the situation in Syria also seem to have grown closer, with the U.S. becoming more concerned about extremist groups operating in the country, a trend that Russia has frequently spoken out about. In December, the U.S. and Britain suspended delivery of some units of humanitarian aid to rebels, worrying that they could be commandeered by extremist groups linked to al-Qaida.

At Monday’s meeting, Kerry said Russia and the U.S. had common views on many issues relating to Syria, including the fact that they both have insisted on seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Emphasizing the chummy personal relationship Kerry and Lavrov have developed, Kerry opened the meeting by handing Lavrov a gift of two Idaho potatoes, to Lavrov’s apparent delight. The Russian side reciprocated with a present of a pink fur cap to the U.S. delegation.

The peace talks, known as the Geneva II conference and first scheduled to take place last year, are now set for Jan. 22. The conference will bring together the Syrian government and the opposition, as well as delegations from some 30 states, the UN, the European Union, the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“We expressed our concerns and urged the Syria National Coalition to determine its position as soon as possible and to cooperate with other opposition groups in order to make the opposition delegation as representative as is required by last year’s Geneva Communique,” Lavrov said after meeting with Kerry and UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Paris, Interfax reported.

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