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John Kerry to travel to Moscow next week to meet with Putin over Syria peace

Russia began moving aircraft out of Syria Tuesday, but no troops, the U.S. Department of Defense said.
By Doug G. Ware   |   March 15, 2016 at 8:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Tuesday that he will travel to Moscow next week to discuss the Syrian peace process, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he'd begin to withdraw troops from the war-torn nation.

Kerry announced the trip early Tuesday, although the details of his forthcoming trip were not revealed.

"The purpose of that trip is to continue to look for ways to move the political process forward in Syria," Department of State spokesman John Kirby said during Tuesday's press briefing. "Obviously, there's other issues to discuss in our bilateral relationship with Russia, but the prime mover for it, again, is Syria."

The entirety of who Kerry will meet with and what the full agenda will include remain to be seen, although discussions about Russia's withdrawal from Syria and the peace process are certain. Kerry did say he will meet with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"Today, as we mark 5 years since the uprising began, we may face the best opportunity we've had in years to end it," Kerry stated on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. "This is a moment to seize, not waste. It's time for the Syrian people to have the opportunity to rebuild their country."

Russia began withdrawing forces Tuesday. The pullout comes as the Syrian cease-fire enters its third week, and seems to be working for the most part.

"We have reached a very important phase in this process," Kerry said.

The Pentagon acknowledged that Russian aircraft began leaving Syria on Tuesday, but said it saw no evidence that any troops left.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura, who has been brokering peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and opposition forces, said Tuesday that he hoped Russia's pullback will be a positive step in the peace process.

Regardless of Russia's actions and the cease-fire agreement, any deal to end the fighting still seems a ways off. Assad's regime wants to fold opposition factions into a national unity government and leave Assad's future up to voters. Rebels, though, want a transitional government that would ultimately force Assad from power -- a position shared by the U.S. government.

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