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Ahead Of Iran Nuclear Talks, Kerry Meets With Russia's Lavrov

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's the problem with the United States putting pressure on Russia. The U.S. would like Russia to pay a penalty for its interference in neighboring Ukraine. But the U.S. also needs Russian help on other issues, like limiting the nuclear program of Iran. The deadline to reach a nuclear deal with Iran is near. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna today meeting with his Iranian counterpart. He has also been consulting in Europe with vital partners in that effort against Iran, including Russia. And the U.S. attitude toward Russia seems to be changing. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: This scene has become a familiar one. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives at the U.S. Ambassador's Mansion in Paris for another lengthy meeting with Secretary Kerry. They ditch their aides and walk in the garden to sit on a bench and chat for a bit. Afterwards, it's clear they haven't gotten anywhere on Ukraine. Kerry came out with a list of demands.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: The shooting around Donetsk airport and other parts of eastern Ukraine has to stop. Foreign forces and weapons need to be withdrawn. Hostages - all hostages - need to be released.

KELEMEN: And Kerry says sovereignty must be restored along the Ukrainian-Russian border. For now, Ukraine is unable to control it. Lavrov was having none of that at his news conference at the Russian ambassador's residence. He simply brushed aside a question about what, if any, assurances he gave Kerry about Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: You know, Mr. Kerry and I don't represent the warring parties here, Lavrov says, stressing that the conflict can only be resolved through negotiations among those involved in the hostilities. And by that, he means only Ukraine and the separatists in the East. Russia has always downplayed it's role, though it does have troops on the ground. On Ukraine, it seems, the two men have agreed to disagree.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KERRY: And so we talked about many other issues besides Ukraine. In fact, the bulk of the conversation today was on a host of other issues.

KELEMEN: Kerry and Lavrov seem to suggest a new reset in relations, though they aren't using that word. They both talked about the need to cooperate where they can on containing the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and countering the self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group, or ISIL, as Kerry calls it.

KERRY: I suggested to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we intensify intelligence cooperation with respect to ISIL and other counterterrorism challenges of the region. And we agreed to do so.

KELEMEN: Lavrov confirmed that and spoke about other areas of cooperation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: Russia and the U.S. play a special role, he says, in settling issues on the global agenda. One pressing issue now is Iran's nuclear program and negotiations over how to curb it. Secretary Kerry says he wasn't ready to make any predictions about the talks. Lavrov seemed upbeat, saying he felt that Russia's partners in this, including the two men he met here in Paris, the French foreign minister and Secretary Kerry, are taking the right approach.

LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: I'm confident that compromise is possible, Lavrov says. Though he adds he can't guarantee that a deal will be reached by November 24. He says the main thing is to reach a good deal. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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