Kerry and Russian counterpart kick off ‘post-reset’ era

By Michael Hughes

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrovdescribed his first meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “constructive” after the duo emerged from a two-hour get-together in Berlin on Tuesday which, according to theVoice of Russia, was primarily focused on the nearly two-year-old conflict in Syria which has led to the deaths of over 70,000 people.

Hopes abound that Moscow and Washington can defuse tensions after the Obama administration’s ostensible “reset” policy got derailed during the president’s first term. Mother Russia seems ready and willing to embrace Kerry after an oft perceived mercurial relationship with Secretary Clinton.

Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, told The Moscow Times that because Kerry and Lavrov are “professional pragmatists” the partnership will not be shaped by a “values-driven agenda” like it was under Clinton.

Clinton irked some Russian officials by making human rights a centerpiece of her diplomacy and alienated even more when she accused President Vladimir Putin of attempting to “re-Sovietize” Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Pushkov also believes cooperation between the former Cold War rivals will be more likely because “Kerry is much more like James Baker and Warren Christopher.”

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland characterized the Kerry-Lavrov talks as “really serious and hard-working” during which they agreed to launch negotiations between the warring parties in Syria. Lavrov leaned on Kerry to press the Syrian opposition to appoint negotiators who are willing to engage Damascus.

Lavrov said Kerry grasped “the gravity of the crisis in Syria” and both pledged “to create the best conditions to facilitate the soonest possible start of a dialogue between the government and the opposition.”

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Russia hopes negotiators will be identified in Rome this week during a conference between the Syrian opposition and the rebels’ Western and Gulf allies.

Up until now Washington has sided with the opposition in calling for Assad’s ouster as a precondition to negotiations while Moscow considers such demands “unrealistic.” Some experts believe that, at a minimum, the Russians must convey to Assad that they are willing to abandon the Syrian dictator if he is not legitimately committed to ending the bloodshed.

The White House has been at odds with the Sunni monarchs and even some UK leaders on whether or not to arm the rebel forces. Pentagon officials are paranoid that weapons might fall into the hands of Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters and the last thing U.S. policymakers want to see is a post-Assad world ruled by Sunni extremists.

Foreign Policy reports that a potential “game-changer” might be in the works given that Saudi Arabia has supposedly procured a significant amount of infantry weapons from Croatia which could help the rebels “tip the balance” against the Assad regime.