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John Kerry heads to Moscow for tough Syria, Ukraine talks

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Paris: US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Russia to try and narrow gaps with Russian leaders over a political transition to end Syria’s civil war and restore stability in eastern Ukraine.

After spending last week at climate talks outside the French capital, Kerry left Paris yesterday for Moscow, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today.

Before departing, Kerry will attend a French-hosted foreign ministers meeting to compare notes on the results of a conference of Syrian opposition figures held last week in Saudi Arabia that are key to the peace effort.

The trip will be Kerry’s second to Russia this year; He earlier met with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in May; but his first since frosty relations over Ukraine were exacerbated by Moscow’s intervention in Syria in late September. President Barack Obama has seen Putin briefly twice since then at international summits in Turkey and France.

A US diplomat in Paris, who demanded anonymity to discuss the talks, said a meeting in Geneva on Friday between Russian and American diplomats on Syria was aimed mainly at clearing up Russian “grievances” ahead of today’s Moscow meeting.

A statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry aired some of those grievances, saying that Moscow “will continue to seek a revision of the US administration policy based on dividing terrorists into a ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones” and complaining that the US was unwilling to engage in “full- fledged coordination” between the two powers’ militaries while both are conducting airstrikes in Syria.

Russia says its airstrikes since late September have targeted the Islamic State, but Western governments claim mostly moderate rebels are being hit and that Moscow is primarily concerned with shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Assad’s future and his potential role in the political transition will be prime topics of Kerry’s conversation with Putin and Lavrov, according to US officials who say the results of the meetings will determine whether or not a new international diplomatic conference on Syria will go ahead as planned at the United Nations on Friday.