At Kerry-Putin Meeting, US-Russia Relations Thaw - a Little

Article excerpt

Secretary of State John Kerry huddled in the Kremlin for several hours with President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, in what US officials described as an effort to "intensify" US-Russia dialogue and inject some fresh juice into a bilateral relationship that's been stumbling aimlessly, amid growing acrimony, for over a year.

More urgently, he told Mr. Putin that Russia and the United States must try harder to forge a common position on the fast- deteriorating situation in Syria, where conflicting charges of chemical weapons usage have alarmed the big powers, and a series of Israeli airstrikes in recent days have raised the specter of a much wider war.

"The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria," Mr. Kerry told Putin.

Those mutual interests include promoting stability in the region, blocking extremists from gaining power, and working together to broker a peaceful political transition for the civil war-wracked country, he added.

But according to a brief note posted on the Kremlin's official website, Putin indicated that he was only interested in a general discussion of "global problems" and would probably wait for his upcoming meetings with President Obama to make any serious decisions.

"I hope to soon meet with [Obama] in person. We will have opportunities to do so several times this year," Putin wrote.

"I feel it is very important that our key ministries, including our foreign ministries, are working jointly to resolve the most difficult problems in the world today," he added.

Experts say the atmosphere is a bit more favorable for US-Russia detente today than a few months ago, when each side was passing laws that branded some of the other's officials as criminals . In part that may be because the tragedy of last month's Boston Marathon bombing has focused minds in both countries on the need for greatly improved security cooperation between their intelligence services.

One of the main purposes of Kerry's two day visit, his first to Moscow since becoming secretary of State, is to prepare the ground for two high-profile upcoming meetings between Mr. Obama and Putin. The first is the G-8 summit, to be held this year in Northern Ireland in just over a month's time. Then, in September Obama will visit Russia for the first time since 2009, where he will hold meetings with Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 leader's summit in St. Petersburg.

"The Boston tragedy may turn out to be a catalyst which offers Obama and Putin an opportunity to do what they've clearly wanted to do for some time, which is to arrest the deterioration of the US- Russia relationship," says Sergei Markov, a political analyst and former adviser to Putin. …