PARIS – After a week of travel in the Mideast, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry changed course and arrived in Paris Saturday for talks with his Russian counterpart on the Ukraine crisis.
Halfway home from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Kerry landed in Shannon, Ireland, for a refueling stop, when he decided to turn his plane around and headed to Paris. Kerry is to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday evening at the Russian ambassador’s residence.
Kerry spoke to Lavrov on the flight to Ireland after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a call Friday to have their foreign ministers meet to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis.
In Paris, Kerry may also meet separately with the French foreign minister.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki on Saturday confirmed the day and general time of the Kerry-Lavrov meeting.
During Friday’s hourlong call, Obama urged Putin to withdraw his troops from the border with Ukraine. Putin, who initiated the call, asserted that Ukraine’s government is allowing extremists to intimidate civilians with impunity – something Ukraine insists has not happened.
The White House and the Kremlin offered different summaries of the call, which occurred while Obama was traveling in Saudi Arabia. The contrasting interpretations underscored the chasm between how Moscow and Washington perceive the escalating international standoff sparked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea away from Ukraine.
White House officials described the call as “frank and direct” and said Obama had urged Putin to offer a written response to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis that the U.S. has presented. He urged Moscow to scale back its troop build-up on the border with Ukraine, which has prompted concerns in Kiev and Washington about a possible Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin, on the other hand, said Putin had drawn Obama’s attention to a “rampage of extremists” in Ukraine and suggested “possible steps by the international community to help stabilize the situation” in Ukraine.
Kerry had already been due to return to Europe on Tuesday for a NATO foreign ministers meeting and had been considering returning to the Middle East to continue a press to salvage foundering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Kerry aides said the option of going to Israel, the Palestinian territories or Jordan remained a possibility.
Psaki said Saturday Kerry would remain in close touch with Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, and the negotiating team in Jerusalem and Ramallah, West Bank, in the event Kerry needs to return to the region from Paris in advance of NATO.
Kerry had been in Riyadh, as well as Rome and The Hague, with President Barack Obama this week but is traveling on his own plane.
He had made a side trip to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while Obama visited Brussels. Kerry has also had several conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he left Washington last Monday.