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In Moscow today, the U.S. and Russian governments agreed to make a new push for peace in Syria. They plan to convene a meeting by the end of this month of Syrian officials and opposition leaders to decide on a transitional government. The initiative, first broached last June, was announced after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian foreign minister. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen reports from Moscow.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When he greeted Kerry at the Kremlin, President Putin got right down to business, talking about the two phone calls he had with President Obama, who's trying to get over a period of frosty relations.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)
KELEMEN: I think it's important that our key ministers, including the foreign ministers, are working on the most acute issues of the day, Putin says. While Putin didn't mention Syria, Kerry says this was one of the main reasons for his trip here.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria: stability in the region, not having extremists creating problems throughout the region and elsewhere.
KELEMEN: Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, says he was pleased with the tone of the meeting and says the U.S. and Russia will work together to try to revive a political transition plan hammered out in Geneva last year.
SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken)
KELEMEN: Lavrov announced plans to hold an international conference to follow up on Geneva and said the U.S. and Russia would encourage all sides in the conflict - the government of Bashar al-Assad and various opposition groups - to get to the negotiating table. Kerry says he hopes the meeting will take place as early as this month, saying the Geneva deal is the best way to end the bloodshed.
KERRY: It should not be a piece of paper. It should not be a forgotten communique of diplomacy. It should be the road map, the implemented manner by which the people of Syria could find their way to the new Syria and by which the bloodshed, the killing, the massacres can end.
KELEMEN: The two glossed over the fate of Assad. Lavrov would only say Russia is not interested in the fate of certain people, but rather of all Syrians. He's calling for a more inclusive dialogue. And Kerry says it's not up to the U.S. to decide who's in any transitional government in Syria. Asked why Syrians would have any confidence in this new effort, Kerry says the alternative is the breakup of Syria.
KERRY: The alternative is that there's even more violence. The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss, and into chaos.
KELEMEN: While Kerry kept focus on the agreements he had in his talks here, he did raise some of the more troubling issues in relations: the Russian ban on adoptions and U.S. sanctions on human rights violators in Russia.
And the day didn't go entirely smoothly. President Putin kept Kerry waiting for three hours. As he cooled his heels, the secretary wandered through Red Square, which was empty as Russians prepare for the May 9th Victory Day parade here.
KERRY: What an amazing way to see the square.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.
KELEMEN: Kerry looked around, trying to read the signs. The Russian protocol official taught him how to say victory: pobyeda.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Pobyeda.
KELEMEN: Just off the square, World War II veterans were rehearsing for the May 9th holiday.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)
KELEMEN: Secretary Kerry met a couple of veterans and brought that up repeatedly here, praising the cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during World War II and saying this is another time when big powers need to be partners. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Moscow.
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