Russian counterpart set to meet with Kerry

 

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday in Paris, the highest-level face-to-face sit-down between U.S. and Russian officials since last week's Ukrainian election.

The meeting will come ahead of Friday's D-Day anniversary in Normandy, where President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to interact for the first time since the Kremlin moved to annex Crimea.

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The pair is likely to discuss U.S. concerns that Russian militants are crossing the border into Ukraine. In a telephone call last Thursday, Kerry urged Lavrov to "end all support for separatists, denounce their actions and call on them to lay down their arms," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Kerry also pressed Russia to recognize Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, a pro-European leader elected in the first national vote since Russian loyalist Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

The secretary of State also voiced concern over reports that Syria would not meet the June 30 deadline for removing its chemical weapons, despite the requirements of a Kremlin-brokered deal. Around 8 percent of the Syrian government's chemical weapons cache remains in the country.

Earlier Tuesday, Obama said he was interested in pursuing "good relations with Russia" during a joint press conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

"If, in fact, we can see some responsible behavior by the Russians over the next several months, then I think it is possible for us to try to rebuild some of the trust that’s been shattered during this past year," Obama said.

Obama said that "rebuilding of trust will take quite some time," but that Putin could aid the process by recognizing and meeting with Poroshenko. Obama also called on Putin to continue withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine and to "facilitate the kind of dialogue along the Ukraine-Russian border that can calm the situation down and encourage people to participate in legitimate political process."

But, the president warned, the U.S. was "prepared for any contingencies that may come up if, in fact, Mr. Putin continues to pursue strategies that destabilize its neighbors."

"We are going to maintain sanctions that are directed at the annexation of Crimea and that we have prepared economic costs on Russia that can escalate if, in fact, we continue to see Russia actively destabilizing one of its neighbors in the way that we’ve seen of late," Obama said.