John Kerry touched down in Russia Tuesday for a rare direct meeting with President Vladimir Putin, with everything from Iran and Yemen to Ukraine and ISIS on the agenda.
The secretary of state landed in Sochi, where he was due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before talks with Putin.
It is Kerry’s first visit to the country since the Ukraine crisis, which sent relations between Washington and Moscow plummeting to post-Cold War lows.
The brief stop comes ahead of a summit of NATO foreign ministers in Turkey on Wednesday.
“It’s important to try to talk to the senior decision maker,” a senior State Department official explained to reporters ahead of the visit. “We have an opportunity to do that.”
The official added: “Key subjects that we anticipate discussing … include next steps in … negotiations on Iran — we’re coming into the final six weeks, it’s important to stay tightly aligned; the regional issues that are hot, including Yemen, Libya. We’ll also anticipate talking about the threat from [ISIS] and particularly events in Syria. And then, of course, we’ll discuss Ukraine and the vital importance of full and fast and complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
The official also hinted at future Western action in chaos-stricken Libya.
“There may be UN Security Council action required in near days and weeks. It’ll be important to have Russia aligned with us and on side supporting the UN talks,” the official said, adding that situation in Yemen “is at a critical moment.”
The relationship between the United States and Russia has been badly damaged over Ukraine.
Western nations accuse Russia of supporting separatists in Ukraine by providing weaponry and manpower — a charge Moscow denies. Russia, meanwhile, has bristled at Washington’s pledge to provide Ukraine with military assistance in the form of hardware and training.
Diplomats in Moscow and Washington are also at odds over a range of other issues.
Russia last month announced it would lift a five-year ban on delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, drawing a hasty rebuke from the United States. The White House said the missile system would give the Islamic republic’s military a strong deterrent against any air attack. The Kremlin argues that the S-300 is a purely defensive system that will not jeopardize the security of Israel or any other countries in the Middle East.
On Syria, Russia has defied a chorus of international condemnation to remain fast to the embattled government of President Bashar Assad.