12:10 Mar. 16, 2016
Kerry announces visiting Moscow next week to discuss Syrian crisis
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in official statements Tuesday (March 15) that he would travel to Moscow next week to discuss the Syrian crisis with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
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Kerry is traveling to Moscow "to discuss how we can effectively move the political process forward and try to take advantage of this moment," he said, the U.S. Department of State reported on its website.
"Today, as we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of this horrific war, we may face the best opportunity that we've had in years to end it," Kerry said.
Putin had announced on Monday he would be pulling out the "main component" of Russian forces from Syria. The announcement, which was timed to coincide with the resumption of peace talks in Geneva, reportedly came as a surprise to Western leaders and Syrian factions alike.
"We have no insight at all into Russia's strategy, Russia's thinking and Russia's tactics, so we are left guessing," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was quoted by The Independent as saying.
Although the motives behind Putin's tactics remain open to interpretation, Moscow appeared to be following through on its plans, Western officials said.
As the withdrawal began Tuesday, UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura praised Putin's move as "a significant — I repeat, a significant — development."
"We hope, and we shall be expecting and hoping that this will be happening, that we will be seeing this decision bringing some positive influence on the actual progress of the talks," he said.
The partial withdrawal of Russian forces — the key international backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad — was seen to weaken Assad's negotiating position and likely make his government more inclined to compromise with the opposition.