Anti-terrorism central to Kerry talks in Moscow after Nice attack

Anti-terrorism central to Kerry talks in Moscow after Nice attack
By bne IntelliNews July 15, 2016

US Secretary of State John Kerry wound up two days of talks with the Russian leadership in Moscow early on July 16, with mutual concerns about combatting terrorism thrown into sharp focus by the truck attack in the French city of Nice that killed at least 84 people and injured dozens more.

It was "inescapable that these horrendous attacks the night before I began my conversations with President Putin and here today with [Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov underscored the degree to which making progress against terrorists and resolving the conflict in Syria particularly is absolutely critical", Kerry said. "What is certain is that none of us will ever be intimidated by the forces that seek to divide and terrorise nations."

Four initial hours of consultations were followed by a visit by Kerry and Lavrov to the French Embassy in Moscow to lay floral tributes to those killed when a man drove a truck at high speed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on July 14. The talks also began with a minute of silence for the victims, RBC reported, and carried on throughout the day and evening.

"I would like to emphasise once again that terrorism can be defeated only through joint efforts," Putin said earlier, after his own meeting with Kerry and what he called "the next heinous terrorist attack in France", and expressed Russia's condolences, the Kremlin website reported.

The chairman of Russia's Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, also said the world should leave aside disagreements and unite in the face of a common threat after the Nice attack. "Terrorism is beyond moral and politics. It can be crushed only by joint efforts," Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page.

Kosachev's deputy went one step further to say that additional resources deployed by Nato against Russia would be better directed against terrorism. "Unfortunately, ironically, when a few days ago Nato spoke publicly of the so-called Russian threat and contemplated moving its troops closer to our borders, the terrorists showed at this moment that the Nato member-countries should fight international terrorism rather than Russia," Vladimir Dzhabarov said, TASS reported. "This summit [in Warsaw on July 8-9] should have focused on efforts to combat terrorism rather than a mythical Russian threat," the senator added.

Meanwhile, the long duration of the talks between Kerry and Lavrov reflected a long list of other areas of concern, including entrenched differences the sides have committed to finally resolving. The talks were expected to cover the Ukraine conflict, Nato's deployment of 3,000 more troops in the Baltic region, with an emphasis also on the situation in Syria.

However, little information was released about the content of the talks, especially with regard to resolving the Syrian conflict. The US and Russia remain divided over some key issues, including the fate of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, who Washington wants removed for his use of extreme military force on the civilian population in Syria's five-year civil war.

Speaking after the talks, Kerry said, "the concrete steps that we've agreed on are not going to be laid out in public in some long list because we want them to work and because they need more work in order to work".

A day before the US Secretary of State arrived, the Russian military took part in a meeting of the Russia-Nato Council after a long interval. The joint council held its last meeting in April with a focus on efforts to end the fighting in East Ukraine, marking the body's first tentative consultations since ties were broken off in 2014.

The sides discussed the build-up of the Western military alliance's eastern flank, with an additional 3,000 troops being sent to the Baltic republics, and the consequences of these decisions for European and regional security, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said later.

"The Russian side proposed a whole number of specific and practical confidence-building measures, including the proposals on warplanes' flights over the Baltic Sea with switched-on transponders," Zakharova said, adding that Moscow yet had to hear Nato's response. The meeting also addressed the situation in Ukraine with the emphasis on the need to fulfil the Minsk peace accords, according to the spokesperson.

Following his own talks with Kerry on July 14, Putin struck a hopeful note for prospects of patching up frayed Russian-US relations. "I would like to emphasise our reciprocal efforts to settle conflicts, which we believe are important and solvable," the president said after discussions Kerry described as "extremely frank and very serious".

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later the talks were "rather constructive, rather honest and detailed". However, "many questions remain connected with real cooperation during the operation in Syria," he noted, adding that the topic of direct interaction between the Russian and the US military in Syria was not raised.

"They discussed different cooperation formats, but the topic of direct cooperation between the military in combating terrorism in Syria was not mentioned," Peskov said.

According to him, the exchange of information in this area "is present, but still, unfortunately, we are not much closer to real cooperation in order to increase the effectiveness of efforts to combatting terrorism in Syria".