Kerry to Visit Russia, Sees Best Opportunity to End Syria War

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Russian and Syrian servicemen line up near military jets during a ceremony dedicated to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria at Hmeymim airbase, Syria, March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russian Ministry of Defence/Vadim Grishankin/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. THE PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Russian and Syrian servicemen line up near military jets during a ceremony dedicated to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria at Hmeymim airbase, Syria, Tuesday. (Reuters/Russian Ministry of Defense/Vadim Grishankin)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Russia next week for what he described as possibly the best opportunity in years to end the civil war in Syria, after Moscow’s announcement of a partial withdrawal of its forces from the country.

Kerry told reporters on Tuesday that he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Kerry argued that the ceasefire was largely holding as peace talks resumed in Geneva this week.

“Today, as we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of this horrific war, we may face the best opportunity that we have had in years to end it,” said Kerry, who welcomed Russia’s announcement on Monday that it planned to pull out the bulk of its forces from Syria.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and millions have fled Syria as refugees. The United States and allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey back opposition groups representing political and armed factions in the war, while Russia and Iran support President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.

“With the cessation of hostilities largely holding, Russia’s announcement that it will remove half of its forces immediately and more, perhaps, from Syria, and with the political negotiations convening this week in Geneva, we have reached a very important phase in this process,” Kerry said.