: AP: Kerry off to Russia for Syria talks after Brussels attacks

12:32 Mar. 23, 2016

AP: Kerry off to Russia for Syria talks after Brussels attacks

John Kerry speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington, March 17, 2016 (AP Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State to discuss the urgency of fighting the Islamic State group with his Russian counterpart

Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Moscow for talks on Ukraine and Syria as the attacks against Brussels underscored the urgency of fighting the Islamic State group.

Watch also Kerry warns Syrian FM comments 'clearly trying to disrupt' peace talks

Kerry departed Washington late Tuesday (March 22) after accompanying President Barack Obama to Cuba and speaking by phone from Havana with the Belgian foreign minister to offer condolences for the victims of the attacks and any assistance Brussels might need.

The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group and have highlighted the threat the group poses outside of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

Watch also Belgium remains on highest level of alert following multiple attacks in Brussels

In talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday (March 23), Kerry is to discuss the fragile truce in Syria that is hoped will spark UN-brokered peace talks amid disagreements over how to verify and respond to alleged violations, the State Department said. His visit was arranged following Putin's surprise announcement last week of Russia's partial military withdrawal from Syria.

Now that the truce is in place, Kerry will be seeking clarity from Putin and Lavrov as to where Russia stands on a political transition for Syria, particularly on the future of President Bashar Assad, according to U.S. officials. One senior official said it was now time to get down to "brass tacks" on Assad. The official was not authorized to preview Kerry's trip and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Watch also Kerry meets EU foreign ministers in Paris

Russia on Monday (March 21) warned the United States that it will start responding unilaterally to cease-fire violations in Syria if the U.S. refuses to coordinate rules of engagement against violators. The State

Department, however, insisted that Moscow and Washington are working constructively to monitor the truce. The department also warned Russia against taking unilateral action in response to alleged violations.

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