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Kerry appeals to Russia for help on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry appealed anew yesterday for Russian help in ending the civil war in Syria, but there was little sign that recent sharp escalations in the conflict have persuaded Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most important international ally to drop him.

“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,” Kerry told Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin kept the visiting Kerry waiting for nearly three hours for a much-anticipated meeting that the Obama administration hoped would clear the air after a deeply troubled period in relations.

Syria is only one element of the difficulties between the nations, and Putin did not mention the conflict in brief remarks welcoming Kerry at the Kremlin.

“Right now, we’re working on our bilateral” relationship, Putin said in a businesslike tone that contrasted with Kerry’s friendlier, flattering remarks. “I think it’s very important that our key ministries and agencies, including the Foreign Ministry, cooperate in finding solutions for the most topical and relevant issues of today’s world.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov struck a warmer note when he and Kerry met separately later.

“It is our mutual desire to overcome the vestige of past times and to strengthen the trust which is the prerequisite of further cooperation,” Lavrov said. He did not mention Syria specifically.

The Obama administration is trying to appeal to Russia’s self-interest in Syria as the conflict drags into a third year. The war is complicating Russian relations with Israel and the Middle East as well as the West. Washington hopes the prospect of defending a regime that has apparently used chemical weapons would be distasteful enough that Russia might finally cut Assad loose or follow up on past pledges to seek a negotiated political settlement.

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