Kerry-Lavrov Syria Talks Get Underway In Geneva



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Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart in Geneva Thursday to go over the details of Moscow's proposed plan to place Syria's chemical weapons arsenal under UN control.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

High-stakes talks in Geneva have just gotten under way, and the secretary of state, John Kerry, says this is not a game.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Expectations are high. They are high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia to deliver on the promise of this moment.

CORNISH: The U.S. is testing Russia to see how serious it is about putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control to eventually be destroyed. The U.S. says the process has to move quickly and be backed up by the threat of force via a U.N. Security Council resolution. Russia opposes that idea, so there's a lot to debate. And joining us now is NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen who is in Geneva to follow these talks. And, Michele, talk to us about the other areas of disagreement.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well that first one over the Security Council resolution is going to be a big one. The U.S. doesn't think Syria or Russia, for that matter, would have gotten to this point without the threat of military action sort of hovering in the background, and the Obama administration is trying to keep that on. There are also likely going to be disagreements over how large a stockpile Syria has. Kerry brought with him intelligence experts and chemical weapons experts to lay out the U.S. case, and they're expecting to hear that the Russians will have a smaller amount that they think the Syrians have.

There's also the issue of accountability. Kerry made clear again tonight as he stood alongside Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, that Assad's forces used chemical weapons in what he called a massive and indiscriminate way. Lavrov, who always has sort of a dour look, was frowning even more than usual. And though he had given some bland remarks at the top, he came back to the microphone to say that he didn't prepare a political speech, as he was suggesting Kerry did. He came here to get down to business.

CORNISH: Now, do you have a sense of the timing of all this? I mean, when might something happen if they can reach a deal?

KELEMEN: The Syrians say that they've started this process of joining the Chemical Weapons Convention. They say they now have 30 days to submit data on their stockpiles. That's the usual bureaucratic process here. Kerry says there's nothing standard about this process because of the way the regime has behaved. So the timing of this is going to be another thorny issue that all sides are going to have to work through.

CORNISH: And talk about the scene of these meetings in Geneva, Michele. I mean, it seems like a bit of a throwback to the Cold War, doesn't it?

KELEMEN: Yeah, here we are, you know, in Switzerland, a neutral country, and having arms control talks. But there's also a bit of history here. It was right here in this very hotel that Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, gave Lavrov a reset button. And it was - had a Russian word on it that actually didn't mean reset or reboot as they meant to write, but rather it meant overcharged. Certainly, relations are beginning to feel that way again now.

CORNISH: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen speaking to us from Geneva. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.