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Kerry, Russian FM Meet Amid Tensions   03/02 06:19

   U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with his Russian counterpart 
in what appeared to be less than amicable talks amid continuing tensions over 
Ukraine and American calls for a full probe into the murder of a prominent 
opposition figure in Moscow.

   GENEVA (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with his 
Russian counterpart in what appeared to be less than amicable talks amid 
continuing tensions over Ukraine and American calls for a full probe into the 
murder of a prominent opposition figure in Moscow.

   immediately provide details of the discussion. Kerry said in a tweet that 
they talked about Ukraine, Syria and ongoing negotiations with Iran over its 
nuclear program.Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke for 
roughly 80 minutes at a Geneva hotel, according to the State Department, which 
did not

   But in a change from their usual cordial encounters for cameras, neither man 
smiled or spoke substantively as they shook hands at the start of the talks 
that took place less than a week after Kerry told Congress that Russian 
officials have lied to his face about Moscow's role in Ukraine.

   That comment drew a rebuke from the Russian foreign ministry. U.S. officials 
have pointed out that Kerry did not specifically accuse Lavrov of lying to him. 
They say he was referring to public statements and media reports, although 
Lavrov is the only Russian official Kerry is known to have met face-to-face in 
recent months. The pair last met in February on the sidelines of an 
international security conference in Munich shortly before a new Ukraine 
ceasefire agreement was agreed upon.

   Both Ukraine and the Russian-backed rebels have accused each other of 
violating the truce and the meeting comes as the U.S. and its European allies 
contemplate additional sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. In his 
congressional testimony last week, Kerry said that fresh U.S. sanctions had 
already been prepared and suggested they could be implemented soon.

   However, U.S. officials have said since that they will wait to see if the 
ceasefire and follow-on commitments to end the violence in Ukraine's east are 
complied with before putting the sanctions in place.

   As the two men met, the Geneva-based U.N. human rights office said that more 
than 6,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict 
almost a year ago. It said the fighting has led to a "merciless devastation of 
civilian lives and infrastructure."

   Hundreds of civilians and military personnel have been killed in recent 
weeks alone after an upswing in fighting particularly near Donetsk airport and 
in the Debaltseve area, the body said in a report covering the period from 
December to February. The strategic railroad town of Debaltseve was captured 
from Ukrainian government forces last month by pro-Russian separatists.

   While Russia denies its troops are fighting in Ukraine, the U.N. cited 
"credible reports (that) indicate a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and 
foreign fighters" from Russia.

   Kerry and Lavrov each addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council later Monday 
and a senior U.S. official said they had met again briefly there to continue 
their earlier discussion.

   The Kerry-Lavrov meeting also followed Friday's murder near the Kremlin of 
Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Kerry and other U.S. and western 
officials have called on Russia to conduct a prompt, thorough, transparent and 
credible investigation into the slaying. Russian President Vladimir Putin has 
said he will take personal charge of the probe. U.S. officials traveling with 
Kerry would not say what they thought of Putin's move and said they would 
withhold comment until the investigation is complete.


(KA)


 
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