MOSCOW — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Thursday for countries to boost efforts to fight the Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq and beyond in the wake of this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels.
In Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Syria and Ukraine, Kerry said the Brussels attacks should put nations on notice that the terror threat emanating from the Middle East must be stopped.
Kerry, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, said the “events in Brussels underscore to us all the urgency of every country that has the ability to make a difference to end this evil scourge that comes from Daesh and violent extremism.”
Kerry will be seeking clarity from Putin and Lavrov as to where Russia stands on a political transition for Syria, particularly on the future of President Bashar Assad, now that a fragile truce is holding and U.N. brokered peace talks are underway.
He said more progress was needed in reducing violence and delivering humanitarian aid but expressed hope that his discussions in Moscow would “further define and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible.”
The U.S. and Russia have been at odds over Syria since the conflict began more than five years ago, with Washington demanding Assad’s ouster and Moscow saying it is up to the Syrian people to determine their leadership.
Kerry’s meetings were arranged after Putin made a surprise announcement last week that Russian troops would partially withdraw from Syria after five months of military operations in support of Assad’s government.
Kerry said that he was optimistic his talks could “prove that two powerful nations that have been able to find cooperation in the past few years despite differences have the ability in the face of those differences to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.”
The other current significant difference between the U.S. and Russia is the situation in Ukraine where Washington accuses Moscow of not doing enough to push pro-Russian separatists in the east to comply with a ceasefire.
Russia, meanwhile, has complained that the Ukrainian government is dragging its feet on implementing the ceasefire.
Fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which has close ties to Russia, has killed more than 9,100 people and left large swaths of land under rebel control. Germany, France and Russia mediated talks between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed separatists in Minsk, Belarus, which resulted in the truce agreement.
That has largely held, but none of the political elements, including calling a local election, has been implemented.
Kiev insists it can’t hold the vote because it cannot guarantee security for election officials. For their part, the rebels have said they won’t allow Ukrainian right-wing parties to run, which the Ukrainian government says also makes the election impossible.
Kerry was to raise concerns about a recent sharp increase in cease-fire violations and press Russia to do more to get the separatists in line. Unless there is “true quiet” and full access for cease-fire monitors, U.S. officials say it will be difficult to get progress on other parts of the Minsk deal.
Kerry will also raise the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who was sentenced to 22 years in prison in Russia on Tuesday on charges the U.S. says are false. Savchenko was convicted of complicity to murder in the 2014 deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, opening a door to a possible prisoner swap between the two countries.
The U.S. has repeatedly called for Savchenko, who is also a member of parliament, to be released and did so again on Tuesday. Ukraine has suggested trading two Russian prisoners for Savchenko and U.S. officials say Kerry would encourage Russia to accept the proposal.