The outcome of Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was a renewed push for a “political solution” in Syria, with a call to draft a new Syrian Constitution by August.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution with a similar target date for drafting a new constitution in December.
The BBC quotes U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura describing talks in Geneva between opposition leaders and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad as productive, with “a lot of common ground between the two sides.”
On the subject of Assad, the BBC notes that Kerry “would not say” if his future had been discussed during four hours of talks with Putin. Kerry would say only that he and Putin “agreed on a target schedule for establishing a framework for a political transition and also a draft constitution, both of which we targeted by August.” Kerry did say that he and Putin agreed Assad “should do the right thing” and engage in peace talks.
Kerry held a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Russia had agreed to join the United States in pressing the Syrian regime and its opponents to hold “direct talks” in Geneva – a step up from the informal discussions currently under way – and a move toward a “transitional governance structure.”
The New York Times judges that the “shape of any political transition to end the war remained vague” after Kerry’s marathon talks with Putin.
“The main sticking point between the two countries has long been the role of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in any political transition, and there was no indication that they had reached agreement on that,” adds the Times.
Kerry repeatedly used the phrase “make the right decision” as code for Assad stepping down. “Russia will have to speak for itself about what it is going to choose to do in order to help Mr. Assad make the right decisions, but we agreed today that we will accelerate the effort to try to move the political process forward,” he said at one point during the press conference.
“I believe that Russia is fully engaged in this effort and all of us are going to try to get President Assad to make the right decision over these next days to engage in a political process that results in a genuine transition and in peace in Syria,” Kerry repeated later.
The NYT is brutally direct about the significance of Kerry’s mission to Moscow, noting that Russia has clearly been successful in using Syria as leverage to “force an end to the American policy of trying to isolate Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.” With Kerry notching three visits to Russia and 18 meetings with Lavrov over the past year, that effort has “clearly succeeded.”
Reuters also notes the atmosphere between Kerry and Putin was “noticeably more amiable than past meetings, reflecting new diplomacy the two Cold War superpowers have championed in recent weeks.”
For his part, Putin was as gracious as a big winner with big plans can afford to be, declaring after his meeting with Kerry, “What we have been able to achieve on Syria has been possible only thanks to the position of the U.S. top political leadership, President Obama.”
“I very much hope that your visit will allow us to bring our positions closer on moving forward to solve the Syrian crisis and … on Ukraine,” Putin added.