'Urgent need' for Russia-US cooperation, Kerry says on Sochi trip
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US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday in a bid to ease strained relations and boost cooperation on global issues including Syria and the Ukraine crisis.
After eight hours of talks with Russian leaders – including a four-hour meeting with Putin – Kerry said there was an "urgent need" for the United States and Russia to cooperate on confronting global challenges.
Russia, for its part, said it was ready to work with the United States but would not bow to "coercion”.
"Russia is ready for constructive cooperation with the United States both in the bilateral sphere and the international arena where our countries have special responsibility for global security and stability," the foreign ministry said in a statement after the talks.
"However cooperation is only possible on an honest and equal basis, without attempts to dictate and coerce," the ministry said.
Speaking at a joint press conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry called for an end to breaches of the Ukraine ceasefire and warned against resorting to using violence.
"The resort to force by any party at this time would be extremely destructive," Kerry told reporters.
Both men acknowledged the importance of working to improve relations between Moscow and Washington.
"We have an understanding that we need to avoid steps that are able to inflict lasting damage on bilateral relations between Russia and the United States," Lavrov said.
"There is no substitute for talking directly to key decision makers, particularly during a period that is a complex and fast-moving as this is," Kerry added.
Russia denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it is arming the pro-Russian separatists battling the government and supporting them with its own military forces. More than 6,100 people have been killed since April 2014 in the Ukraine crisis.
The United States and European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea in March of last year and have since intensified them over the Ukraine conflict.
The sanctions can be lifted "if and when" the terms of a shaky Ukraine ceasefire are fully met, Kerry said on Tuesday.
A deal agreed in Minsk in February calls for withdrawing heavy weaponry and respecting Ukraine’s eastern border. The United States has accused Russia of failing to withdraw heavy equipment such as air defense systems, tanks and artillery from eastern Ukraine in violation of the Minsk 2 peace plan.
Relations between Washington and Moscow sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War in the months after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Moscow, for its part, accuses Washington of orchestrating last year’s overthrow of Ukraine's Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich.
Washington and Moscow are also at odds over the civil war in Syria, where Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while the United States wants a political transition to end his family’s four-decade rule.
While there have been no outward signs of a Russian reversal on Ukraine or Syria, US officials hope recent defeats to Assad’s forces may change Moscow’s stance.
Insurgents overran the town of Jisr al Shughour last month and the provincial city of Idlib a month earlier, both in the rich agricultural province of Idlib.
The senior US official also said it was important to meet Putin to discuss the Iran nuclear talks, which aim to reach an agreement by June 30 under which Tehran would curb its atomic program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)