News / Middle East

Kerry-Lavrov Rapport Smoothed Path to Syria Deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen talking after a joint news conference in Geneva, September 14, 2013.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen talking after a joint news conference in Geneva, September 14, 2013.
x
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen talking after a joint news conference in Geneva, September 14, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seen talking after a joint news conference in Geneva, September 14, 2013.
Reuters
The deal between the United States and Russia on Syrian chemical weapons was due in no small part to the labors of foreign policy veterans with contrasting styles: Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
 
While their bosses, presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, get on poorly and can stoop to point scoring, the two ministers have what diplomats like to call “a good working relationship.”
 
“We've had our differences here and there on certain issues,” Kerry said of recent tensions that have brought U.S.-Russian ties to some of their lowest points since the Cold War.
 
But throughout it all, “Sergei Lavrov and I have never stopped talking,” Kerry told a news conference on Saturday when he announced the Syria agreement after nearly three days of round-the-clock negotiations.
 
The pair have helped keep the U.S.-Russia relationship from hitting even worse lows as Moscow and Washington argued not only over Syria but also about American fugitive spy contractor Edward Snowden and human rights in Russia, U.S. officials say.
 
Just 10 days ago, Putin publicly called Kerry a liar for suggesting that Syrian rebels were not dominated by radical Islamists.
 
To smooth things over, Lavrov apologized - or at least explained - to Kerry in a phone call, a senior State Department official said. The Kremlin got a bad translation of the secretary of state's remarks, Lavrov told Kerry.
 
The Geneva accord to take away Syria's chemical arsenal leaves major questions unanswered, including how to carry it out in the midst of civil war and at what point the United States might make good on a threat to attack Syria if it thinks President Bashar al-Assad is reneging.
 
But it was a rare common effort between Moscow and Washington and the product of the most significant direct U.S.-Russia diplomacy on a global crisis in years.
 
The Syria agreement “shows how important it is for us to go beyond those things... some people try to make them as obstacles in our relations, some suspicions or concerns that are created artificially,” Lavrov said on Saturday when asked whether the United States and Russia might again try to “reset” their relations.
 
After Lavrov wound up his long-winded answer, Kerry, a former U.S. senator, teased him: “I was just thinking Sergei, you could be a senator.”
 
Unlikely couple
 
Lavrov and Kerry might be diplomatic partners and able to rib one another in public, but they are cut from different cloth.
 
The Russian foreign minister has an often-dour public visage and can be prickly and sharp-tongued. Those who have negotiated with him say he has a razor-sharp mind, honed over four decades of diplomatic service since his 1972 graduation from the then-Soviet Foreign Ministry's international relations institute.
 
By contrast, Kerry is a former politician and presidential candidate with a deep belief in personal diplomacy and his own powers of persuasion.
 
Lavrov does not wander off message; Kerry's former independence as a senator shows in the occasional remark that goes beyond the White House script.
 
While their relationship helped the Syria talks, ultimately foreign policy is dominated in Moscow by Putin, and to a lesser extent by the White House in Washington.
 
The Syria chemical weapons plan, first put forward last week by Lavrov, would not have been announced without Putin's approval.
 
“The Russian foreign minister does not have an independent political identity in the way that senators-turned-secretaries of state like [Hillary] Clinton or Kerry do,” said Matthew Rojansky of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
 
“This is a strong system and Putin is very much in control, and Lavrov serves that system,” said Rojansky, director of the center's Kennan Institute.
 
Lavrov left the Intercontinental Hotel talks venue twice on Friday to field calls from Putin he took at Russia's mission to U.N. organizations in Geneva.
 
Moving beyond the 'reset'
 
The Intercontinental was where Kerry's predecessor Clinton gave Lavrov a peace offering in March 2009 in the form of a box with a large red “reset” button.
 
The reset in U.S.-Russia ties did not last long, foundering over disputes on Iran, Syria and Snowden.
 
Lavrov, Russia's top diplomat since 2004, appears to get on better with Kerry than he did with either Clinton or former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
 
Dimitri Simes, president of the Washington-based Center for the National Interest think tank, said he last saw Lavrov in July. “It was quite clear that Lavrov was concerned about the status of the U.S.-Russian relationship, was not happy with the U.S. position on Syria. But my impression was that he felt that he had a good working relationship with Secretary Kerry.”
 
Kerry and Lavrov have spoken by phone 11 times since the Aug. 21 gas attack outside Damascus that sparked U.S. threats to use force, according to a State Department tally.
 
Their struggle with the Syria issue began in early May, when Kerry traveled to Moscow, met with Putin and pressed the Russians to become more involved in efforts to end Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people.
 
“Just work with Lavrov on it,” Putin said near the end of the more than hour-long meeting, according to a senior State Department official.
 
The two ministers took a long walk - a favorite Kerry tactic - then huddled with a small group of advisers in a backroom, where they drew up an announcement for a meeting in Geneva aimed at a political transition in Syria. But that conference has yet to be held.
 
After a midnight news conference to announce the peace conference plan, they had dinner. Lavrov brought out a bottle of wine from the late 1940s, the senior official said.
 
“They talked about hockey. They both love sports,” the official said. “Lavrov loves soccer. Kerry played soccer,” the official said.
 
Kerry's personal diplomacy with Lavrov continued in Geneva this week, with a dinner of salad and fish on Thursday night that included only one aide each, and a ride in his limousine on Friday morning en route to the U.N.'s Geneva headquarters.
 
Those personal touches, many say, helped move the talks toward agreement and avert a U.S. military strike on Syria.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs