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Kerry holds 'frank' talks with Putin in bid to improve ties

Update: May, 13/2015 - 10:42

SOCHI — Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry have held four hours of rare face-to-face talks as the two nations sought ways to cooperate after a sharp deterioration in relations.

The highest level US visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted in late 2013 did not result in any major agreements, but Kerry's trip in itself and a marked change in tone were seen as signs of the countries' willingness to improve ties.

"Today's meetings allowed us to better understand each other," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday after talks on Ukraine, Syria and Iran, among other issues, in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

A post on Kerry's Twitter account called the meeting with Putin "frank" and "productive".

"I express President Obama's gratitude for Russia's willingness to engage in this discussion at a time when the exchange of views could not be more important," Kerry said after his meeting with Putin and another four hours of talks with Lavrov.

"There is no substitute for talking directly to key decision-makers, particularly during a period that is as complex and fast-moving as this is."

The two top diplomats said Moscow and Washington should continue dialogue to try to resolve their differences.

'Urgent need for cooperation'

Kerry reiterated that biting US and EU sanctions on Russia could be rolled back "if and when" the terms of a shaky Ukraine ceasefire were fully met.

He warned all sides, including Ukraine's pro-Western government, that any further recourse to force would "be extremely destructive".

Both Kerry and Lavrov said that all the terms of the truce had to be implemented.

While there were "certain contradictions and divergences as regards to the origins" of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, "we definitely shared the view that it is only possible to resolve" the crisis by implementing the truce, Lavrov said.

Beyond Ukraine, Kerry said there was an "urgent need" for the United States and Russia to cooperate on global challenges.

Pointing to the success of an earlier deal on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons, Kerry said: "There is an urgent need, we agreed, for that same kind of cooperation ... the same kind of effort is now necessary on some other challenges that we face together."

"We have an understanding of the need to avoid steps which can inflict long-term damage on bilateral ties in various fields," Lavrov said.

"Especially if we take into account the fact that the solution of many pressing modern problems depends on our well-coordinated joint efforts on the international arena."

They also discussed Yemen and Libya, and Kerry briefed Putin on the negotiations on curtailing Iran's nuclear programme, saying it was important to maintain their unity on the issue.

Putin's top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told Russian reporters that the Sochi meetings were "the manifestation of the first signs of understanding that the two great countries should return to normal cooperation". — AFP

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