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John Kerry Meets With President Putin In Sochi


In Russia today, Secretary of State John Kerry finally got the meeting he's been chasing for months. He sat face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the resort town of Sochi. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and joins us now from Sochi. And, Michele, Putin was all smiles when he met with Kerry today. Do you know what they talked about?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, they had a lot to talk about. The meeting with Putin lasted well over four hours and that was after another four hours of talks with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Kerry's, you know, trying to get over one of the most tense periods in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War. He said they talked about Iran because the deadline is looming for a nuclear deal and Kerry wants to make sure negotiators - and that includes Russia - are united on that. He also said they talked a lot about Syria 'cause that's an area where the two sides did work together before. They managed to persuade Syria to get rid of its declared chemical weapons stockpile, and a lot more needs to be done on that. And, of course, Ukraine was a big issue. Sergey Lavrov points out that the U.S. and Russia disagree on how the crisis started, but he said they agreed on the need to implement a peace plan. Of course, they glossed over some key issues on that front.

CORNISH: And John Kerry has had many meetings with the Russian foreign minister. Talk about the significance of him meeting President Putin himself.

KELEMEN: You know, there's been a sense that the meetings with Lavrov really weren't getting the U.S. anywhere. Relations kept getting worse. The differences over Ukraine and many other issues were piling up. And Kerry said tonight here in Sochi that there's no substitute to talking directly to key decision-makers, and that, of course, is Putin here in Russia. And he said that's especially true during these challenging times. And, you know, Audie, they've spent the past year trying to show how isolated Putin was, but here in this meeting the idea was to see when they can work together and see if it's possible.

CORNISH: Michele, finally, from the Russian perspective, I mean, did you get any sense about why the Kremlin even agreed to this meeting?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, the Russians really want to get away from this image of being isolated in the world. You'll remember this past weekend they had a military parade in Moscow commemorating World War II, and Western leaders avoided it. But today, you saw Secretary Kerry visiting a war memorial with children there in a very somber experience. And, you know, it seems that the Russians like this idea of having a very lengthy and substantive conversation with the United States, showing that they're needed on a lot of these issues.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen speaking to us from Sochi, Russia. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.