Laying the groundwork for planned Syrian peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
The big topic of conversation will be the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad. If a political transition is agreed to, the United States wants him gone. Russia, on the other hand, is bombing in support of his regime.
" 'I look forward to making real progress,' Kerry said at the start of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
" 'I think the world benefits when powerful nations with a long history with each other have the ability to be able to find common ground,' he said.
"Kerry, who will meet Putin later on Tuesday, told Lavrov: 'Even when there have been differences between us we have been able to work effectively on specific issues.' "
The Washington Post reports that Lavrov said he was willing to talk about the "terrorism of [the Islamic State]."
The situation in Ukraine is different. The countries, he said, have "widely divergent perceptions of the conflict in Ukraine." The Post adds:
"State Department officials traveling with Kerry said he will tell the Russians that sanctions will continue until Moscow withdraws its troops and support for separatist rebels in the east, part of an agreement signed in Minsk earlier this year. Lavrov said he hoped Washington could use its 'influence on Kiev' to end the fighting.
"Suggesting a broader focus for the high-level talks, Lavrov said the Russians also want to 'exchange views' on what he called the 'Palestinian settlement' of their conflict with Israel."