Kerry to meet with Russian foreign minister next week on Syria

Kerry to meet with Russian foreign minister next week on Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Turkey and Europe this weekend and will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels.

In Istanbul, Kerry is meeting Saturday with members of the Syrian opposition coalition and representatives from other countries who support the Syrian opposition. The goal is to "further explore ways that the international community can support the opposition and accelerate a Syrian-led political transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

There had been reports that President Barack Obama had approved an interagency recommendation to authorize the provision of non-lethal military assistance to the Syrian rebels, including things like body armor and night-vision goggles, but Kerry made no mention of such a move in his testimony to several congressional committees this week.

"President Obama has said and directed me to go out and try to find the ways to implement this, to change — we need to change President Assad’s calculation, that’s clear," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday. "Right now, he is sitting there with support from Iran, with support from Hezbollah, with support from Russia, with artillery and an army, and believing that he can continue to fight it out using his air power, his Scuds, his artillery and his tanks. So that equation somehow has to change, and we all understand that,"

Kerry said he had reached out to the Russian to try to find a way to work together to implement the principles of the Geneva plan, which include that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition must mutually agree to choose new individuals to create a transitional government ahead of new elections in Syria.

"[The Russians] are now arguing that Assad doesn’t necessarily have to leave immediately or upfront, and they believe that the Syrian opposition is pushing away from the negotiations," Kerry said.

After leaving Turkey, Kerry will travel to Brussels from April 22 to 24, where he will participate in the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting and a meeting of the NATO-Russian Council. Kerry said he will meet with Lavrov on the sidelines of those meetings.

"My hope is still that the Russians can be constructive in this process and we can find a way to negotiate," he said.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee Thursday, Kerry said he would also press Lavrov on the Russian ban on American adoptions, instituted abruptly last December.

"I’ve already raised this issue with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We’ve talked about it several times actually, and I’ve agreed with him to try to do certain things to see if we can’t try to break the impasse with the Russians, where just some families’ hearts are being broken who were all prepared to receive children and that has stopped," Kerry said.

Kerry noted that the Russians are concerned that 27 out of the 60,000 or so Russian orphans in the United States have died while in the care of their host families. He said that issue has to be addressed as well.

"[The Russians] are very concerned about it and the press is very focused on it and we need to work through, and I have ideas about how to do that," he said.

Overall, Kerry is optimistic about the U.S. Russian relationship, despite differences over Syria, adoptions, the Magnitsky list of Russian human rights violators, and Russian actions against international NGOs.

"Have we gone down into a lower moment of that relationship? The answer is yes," Kerry testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee April 17. "But on big issues, I want everybody to take notice that Russia has cooperated with us with respect to Afghanistan and the northern route, which has been critical. Russia has cooperated with us on the WTO, cooperated with us on Iran, Iran sanctions, on the U.N. resolution, cooperated with us on the DPRK and cooperated with us on the START treaty. Those are big-ticket items. So even though there have been some bumps in the road, I am very hopeful that we can move this relationship back to a more visibly completely constructive place, and we need to work at it."