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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid