It was the first visit for the new Secretary of State to Moscow and in characteristic Putin form, the meeting started 3 hours late. Secretary Kerry was ushered into the Kremlin by Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov and seated across from President Putin.
Mr. Kerry has his own characteristic quirks too–he likes to talk–and he’d hardly been seated before proclaiming the meeting a success which represented the opening of a new relationship between Russia and the United States.
Across the other side of the table Mr. Putin fiddled with his pen while Kerry spoke and when it came time for Mr. Putin to speak he was silent on the subject of Syria, the reason for the Kerry trip.
Transcript of their public remarks:
Mr Secretary of State, colleagues,
We are very happy to welcome you to Moscow. I am glad that we are continuing our contacts with our US colleagues regularly and at all levels.
Just recently, Mr. Obama and I had two fairly lengthy, substantive telephone conversations and had the chance to discuss many aspects of our relations. I received his written message through Mr Donilon. We are currently preparing a response.
I hope to soon meet with him in person. We will have opportunities to do so several times this year. I feel it is very important that our key ministries, including our foreign ministries, are working jointly to resolve the most difficult problems in the world today.
We are truly happy to see you, because this is an opportunity to personally discuss the problems we feel are important.
(US Secretary Of State John Kerry)
Thank you very, very much, Mr President. I’m really happy to be here to see you. I appreciate your welcome and I’ve had a terrific opportunity to work with your foreign minister (Sergei Lavrov) on any number of issues and we’re very appreciative for his diligence and cooperation.
Mr President, I also am honoured to be here on the eve of your Victory Day celebration. I had the pleasure of walking through Red Square and seeing the preparations and I even met with some of your veterans. I had a chance to talk with them about their experiences. And I think many people in the United States and elsewhere are not fully aware of the enormous contribution of Russia, the amazing sacrifices and the great effort made as a partner and ally to win that war. We thank you for that great cooperation.
Mr President, as you know better than anybody, there are enormous challenges today that require the same level of cooperation. And I’m very happy that our professionals are working together now to work, to deal with some of the issues of the bombing that took place in Boston, and we thank you for that cooperation.
And Mr President, I bring you President Obama’s greetings. He related to me the substance of his conversations with you, for which he was very grateful. And he is looking forward to seeing you on the side of the G8 in Ireland and would reiterate that there are many issues – economic cooperation, the challenges of North Korea, Iran, Syria, and many other issues – on which he believes we could cooperate very significantly.
And finally, Mr President, I know that we’ll have a chance to talk about it seriously in a few moments, but we really believe, the United States believes, that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria: stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere. And I think we have both embraced, in the Geneva Communique, a common approach. So it’s my hope that today, we’ll be able to dig into that a little bit and see if we can find a common ground.
President Obama particularly feels that cooperation between Russia and the United States with respect to economic issues is something that would be of enormous benefit to both, and Russia’s leadership is so key on so many of those issues. We look forward to working with you. So thank you very, very much for seeing me here today.
Thank you, Mr President.
Although he claimed not to be put off by the 3 hour delay, Mr. Kerry had spent some of that time on his cell phone as he stood near the State Historical Museum building just outside Red Square in what looked to be an intense conversation, perhaps with officials or staff in Washington but on that we’re not clear.
So what kept Mr. Putin so long? President Putin has a reputation for being late even to meetings of state but according to his schedule during the time he was supposed to be with Mr. Kerry he met with staff to go over details of recent executive orders, some of which were related to the upcoming Victory Day parade activities. He also took time to meet with the heads of several Children’s health ministers and he had a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Kerry and President Putin discussed the recent Israeli air strikes and perhaps he was conferring with Mr. Netanyahu for updated information.
Upon arriving in Moscow the Kremlin area hotel hosting Secretary Kerry was surrounded by tanks as the Russian military was practicing for the large Victory Day parade on Thursday, 9 May. Upon Kerry’s arrival at the airport, US Ambassador Michael McFaul joked with Mr. Kerry that he couldn’t get a room because the hotel was surrounded by tanks.
Mr. Kerry was taken first to the United States Embassy were he was greeted in the traditional Russian greeting with bread and salt. Later he and Ambassador McFaul had a brief tour of Red Square and area around the Kremlin.
Relations between the two countries have been tense over differences in how to deal with Syria but Mr. Kerry said they would try to “bring both sides to the table.” Prior to meeting with President Putin, Mr. Kerry laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers which is located along one of the Kremlin walls.