On March 23-24, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. According to reports, the meetings, which focused mainly on Syria and the Ukrainian crisis, were "relaxed," "friendly," and characterized by a "touch of humor." During the meeting at the Kremlin, President Putin took the opportunity to joke with Kerry, saying that when he saw him coming off the plane carrying his own suitcase, he thought that things must be looking "blue" in the U.S., since there wasn't anyone to help the secretary of state carry his luggage. This kind of patronizing humor also characterized the meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry, but nonetheless, Kerry and Lavrov "moved from mutual accusations to dialogue." Still, nothing new emerged from the public meetings. At the joint press conference, Lavrov reminded the media that Russia is a global player, since "in less than 10 months" Kerry "has visited Moscow three times" and overall Kerry and Lavrov had 18 meetings last year. Lavrov pointed out that he and Kerry discussed international matters ranging from Syria, to Yemen, to Ukraine, positioning Russia as a vital partner.
Following are excerpts from the English transcripts of the official meetings. (The text has been lightly edited for clarity.) It is noteworthy that in the transcript of the joint press conference published by the Russian Foreign Ministry (below) Kerry's answers do not appear. The transcript that appears on the U.S. State Department website includes the statements of both counterparts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Source: Reuters, March 24, 2016)
Meeting Between U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry And Russian President Vladimir Putin
On March 24, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin received U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Kremlin. Kerry arrived for a meeting with Putin following his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The following are excerpts from the English transcript of the Kremlin meeting between Putin and Kerry, translated by the Kremlin. Lavrov was also present at the meeting.
Putin: "Things Must Be Looking Blue In The U.S. If Nobody Can Help The Secretary Of State Carry His Suitcases"
At the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin and FM Sergei Lavrov (Source: Kremlin.ru, March 24, 2016)
Russian President Vladimir Putin: "...We are always glad to host you as your visits take place in a highly businesslike atmosphere and provide a chance to advance in resolving serious issues. When I saw you coming off your plane today and carrying your belongings, I got a bit upset. On the one hand, this is very egalitarian, but, on the other hand, things must be looking blue in the United States if nobody can help the Secretary of State carry his suitcases. But the economy seems to be doing fine and there are no big cuts. Then I thought that you probably have in this case something that you couldn't trust anyone to carry, something precious, probably money for better bargaining on key issues.
"Speaking seriously, we are really glad to see you because - this time I am not joking at all - we usually manage to find some points of contact and rely on them to move forward towards resolving bilateral and international issues..."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: "Mr. President, thank you. When we have a private moment, I'll show you what's in my briefcase. And I think you'll be surprised, pleasantly...
"Mr. President, let me begin. First of all, I want to thank you for making time. I know this has been a very busy day, and we are very appreciative for the opportunity to have a serious conversation about serious issues.
"...So, Mr. President, I know you have ideas, and you've already made a very critical decision with respect to the drawdown of your forces in Syria. And we obviously also have some ideas for how we can now most effectively make progress in Geneva and begin the very serious and difficult work of the transition.
"And we also have some ideas, Mr. President, for how we could perhaps make faster, greater progress with respect to Ukraine... I look forward very much to the opportunity tonight to be able to find a way forward and frankly, ultimately, see if we can't rebuild and strengthen the relationship between the United States and Russia by proving that we know how to solve some serious problems together and building from there..."
Vladimir Putin: "Mr. Secretary of State, we understand that what we have managed to achieve on the Syrian track has only been possible thanks to the position of the political leadership of the United States, the position of President Obama. I very much hope that your visit will allow us to harmonize our positions as regards further settlement both in Syria and, as you said, in Ukraine."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's Opening Remarks Prior To Talks With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Moscow, March 24, 2016
On March 24, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The meeting preceded Kerry's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The following are excerpts from the English transcript of Lavrov's opening remarks during talks with Kerry, translated by the Russian Foreign Ministry:
Lavrov: If Wisdom Is Measured By The Number Of Birthdays One's Had, I'll Never Catch Up With You
Russian FM Sergei Lavrov meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow. (Source: Reuters, March 24, 2016).
John Kerry: "I look forward to our conversations. Let me take advantage of this moment to wish you a very, very happy birthday. I know that it will bring you extra wisdom in our conversations. You look terrific for thirty-nine."
Sergei Lavrov: "Thank you, John, but if wisdom is measured by the number of birthdays one's had, I'll never catch up with you."
John Kerry: "As long as you respect your elders, absolutely."
Sergei Lavrov: "...Our joint efforts in Syria, and persistence, brought us success because we worked and will continue to work together on an equal footing. We found a balance not only between the interests of Moscow and Washington, but between all the involved parties, both inside and outside Syria. This was our key to success. I'm certain if we maintain the same approach in other international affairs and our bilateral relations, we can hope for a pretty good future."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's Statement And Answers To Media Questions At A Joint Press Conference With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Moscow, March 24, 2016
The following are excerpts from the English transcript of the joint news conference, translated by the Russian Foreign Ministry:
Lavrov: In Less Than 10 Months, Secretary of State John Kerry Has Visited Moscow Three Times
Sergei Lavrov: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent today at talks in Moscow. First, we had a long meeting at the Foreign Ministry. Just now, we finished a long meeting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Today's talks covered many issues at great length...Speaking about our bilateral affairs, I believe both countries are increasingly aware that further rocking the boat of Russia-U.S. relations is counterproductive. As we ascertained again today, the rhetoric of Russia's isolation has nothing to do with reality.
"We appreciate President Barack Obama's attitude as he repeatedly stressed the importance of a respectful and pragmatic dialogue with Russia. We also appreciate the role of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is promoting this dialogue in practice, including through his regular visits to Moscow. In less than 10 months, Secretary of State John Kerry has visited our capital three times. Overall, Secretary of State John Kerry and I had 18 meetings last year. This is perhaps a record for Russia's bilateral relations at the foreign ministerial level.
"For our part, we confirmed that we never intended to evade or shut down cooperation. We are always willing to collaborate equally, based on mutual respect for each other's interests... The tone of the Russia-U.S. dialogue has a strong impact on the efforts of the international community in resolving many pressing problems. As you are aware, thanks to our interaction we have made some serious progress in overcoming the Syrian crisis... Following a telephone conversation between our presidents on March 14, we agreed today to continue coordinating our actions to consolidate the ceasefire and prevent any violation of the latter. We will particularly focus on preventing the use of indiscriminate weapons. We agreed to continue our efforts to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach the areas in Syria that are still blocked from access...
"We decided that our immediate task would be to begin direct talks in Geneva between the Syrian Government and the entire range of Syrian opposition forces. This will ensure complete fulfillment of all the criteria set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2264 regarding the formation of a transition government, a new constitution and eventually, free constitutional elections. We also confirmed that our efforts will go hand in hand with building up coordinated action to fight ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and other associated extremist organizations...
"Our discussion covered other conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including Libya and Yemen. We spoke about moving the Middle Eastern settlement forward from the deadlock and reaching an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis within the framework of international law and existing UN resolutions. All in all, this region urgently needs a balance of interests - for all the parties involved in the conflict and key external parties.
"We talked about Ukraine at great length. Despite certain nuances, we both understand that the Minsk Agreements must be fulfilled and that there is no alternative...
"Our talks this morning also touched on the situation in the Korean Peninsula. We stressed the importance of easing the tension caused by North Korea's ballistic missile test launches. Russia's stance remains unchanged. Pyongyang's irresponsible action cannot be used to excuse an inadequate and disproportionate response, specifically the buildup of military potential in Northeast Asia.
"We also touched upon the issue of our dialogue on global security. Here we stated the remaining differences between us. This concerns problems relating to missile defense, the treaty on medium and shorter-range missiles and NATO's expansion. What's important is that we agreed to intensify this dialogue, make it more substantive, sustainable, and stable in order to try to eventually resolve these problems.
"We, on our part, would like to accentuate the usefulness of our contacts with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. We believe that these contacts help fulfill the determination of our presidents to address problems both in our bilateral relations and in the international arena. We agreed to continue contacts on all these and other items of our common agenda."
Lavrov: Terrorism Was Largely Engendered Through The Erroneous Actions Of The West In The Region
Question: "You and the U.S. Secretary of State spoke about concrete steps for talks on a political transition in Syria. What conclusion did you come to on the issue of exerting pressure on both negotiating parties in the Syrian settlement to bring them closer to an agreement? And one more question, about the Brussels events. A number of high-ranking Russian officials, including from the Foreign Ministry, suggested that the U.S. is part of the problem in the Middle East because it supports the terrorists. Today you spoke of Washington as a partner. There is some contradiction here. How does Russia view the U.S. - as part of the problem or as part of a solution to it?"
Sergei Lavrov: "As for the need to exert pressure on the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the opposition, the issue is not new and requires no additional accords. Ever since the Geneva Communiqu├® was signed on June 30, 2012, the UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian settlement urged all the sides capable of influencing the government and the opposition to make the necessary efforts to encourage them towards a political settlement. And that's what Russia has been doing from the very beginning. ...The opposition remained aloof for a long time, insisting that it wouldn't attend any talks unless the Syrian President's fate was sealed. The opposition spent January fretting, hindering the start of the first round of talks. The talks were only launched in March, and they cannot be described as the direct dialogue that is stipulated in the Geneva Communiqu├®... The opposition, with which we need to keep working, as you said, continues to put forth preliminary conditions. It's because of this that we can't implement the part of the Russian-U.S. initiative that provides for an inclusive negotiating process, including an inclusive opposition delegation, meaning that the Kurds must be included too. I won't go into detail as everyone here probably reads the news and knows why the Kurds have not yet been fully involved in the negotiations...
"As for terrorism and the causes of the current tidal wave that is feeding terrorism, I don't see how this can be an issue of contention. Many analysts and politicians in the United States and other countries, including incumbent officials, admit that terrorism was largely engendered through the erroneous actions of the West in the region. I won't cite the Afghan war, when confrontation with the Soviet Union in the 1980s encouraged the United States to contribute to the creation of a mujahidin organization that eventually developed into the notorious terrorist group al-Qaeda. On September 11, 2001, this organization struck the United States.
"Unfortunately, all subsequent attempts at external manipulation of developments in the region, especially those that involved military force, only strengthened the 'terrorist international.' This happened after the invasion of Iraq, where the current ISIS leaders gained prominence in the middle of the past decade. I can cite the example of Libya, which the NATO intervention turned into a 'black hole' from which weapons and militants spread through a dozen other countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention the countries that border Libya. At the same time, Libya has become a hole through which migrants are smuggled into Europe by criminal businesses.
"In other words, we are not placing the blame on anyone. As I said, many U.S. politicians have described these decisions as gross mistakes. I believe it would be na├»ve to suggest that these facts rule out a partnership with the United States. Many of Washington's partners don't share its views. I mentioned the attempts to prevent the involvement of the Kurds in the Syrian political process. This ultimatum has been raised by one of the United States' partners. But this doesn't mean that our differences on one of the issues should prevent us from discussing anything else... There are a number of issues on which we don't agree. There will probably always be such issues. As for issues on which we don't differ and where we have common interests, we want to and will cooperate on them based on equality and a balance of interests..."
Question (addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry): "You have intrigued us with what you have in your briefcase. What have you brought to Russia?"...
Sergei Lavrov: "So what was in the briefcase?"
Question (addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry): "You also brought a guitar with you. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also plays the guitar. When will we be able to enjoy your musical duet?"
Sergei Lavrov: "I don't play this guitar, I play