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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid