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US, Russia Hold Talks on Syria, IS, Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Dec. 15, 2015. (REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Dec. 15, 2015. (REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev)

The United States and Russia tried to find common ground Tuesday about Syria, the Islamic State terrorist group and Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Moscow. It was Kerry’s second trip to Russia this year. He was also to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kerry acknowledged that “there have been differences between us.” But, he said, “we have been able to work effectively on specific issues.” He noted that Russia helped broker the Iran nuclear agreement.

Lavrov said he wanted to continue talks begun by Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama over the “Ukrainian settlement.”

Also on Kerry’s agenda in Russia were talks about how to end the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, said a senior State Department official. The so-called Minsk agreement calls for the Ukrainian government and Russian-supported separatists to withdraw their heavy weapons.

Kerry also planned to set an agenda for the next International Syria Support Group meeting, the official said. That group has offered a political solution to end the crisis in Syria. The United States and Russia disagree about whether Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should be removed. The International Syria Support Group is scheduled to meet Friday in New York.

A U.S.-led coalition and Russia, separately launched airstrikes against militant targets in Syria. The United States criticized the Russian airstrikes. It said the strikes target anti-Assad Syrians instead of Islamic State terrorists.

The meeting between Kerry and Lavrov happened as Russia seeks to end U.S. and European economic punishments. Sanctions were put in place after Russia illegally annexed, or seized control of, Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.

Some reports say Russia will try to use its relationship with Assad to gain favor with the West to end sanctions. But the State Department official said the American position is “absolutely clear.” The U.S. would not end the sanctions in exchange for Russia pressuring Assad to leave office, the official said: The issues are separate.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

This story was reported from Moscow by VOA State Department Correspondent Pamela Dockins. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

common ground – expression something that people agree about even if they disagree about other things

acknowledge – v. to say that you accept or do not deny the truth or existence of (something)

specific – adj. relating to a particular person, situation, etc.

broker – v. to help people, countries, etc., make a deal or to reach an agreement

agenda – n. a list of things to be considered or done

schedule – v. to plan (something) at a certain time

sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc. (usually plural)

annex – v. to add (an area or region) to a country, state, etc.; to take control of (a territory or place)

in exchange for – expression in return for something

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