Remarks before Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, Sergey, thank you very much.  First of all, thank you for welcoming me back to Moscow, and indeed, this is my third visit.  And I think it’s fair to say that each of the visits that I’ve had and (inaudible) have permitted us to be able to find some path forward – not always as far as we would like, but we have made progress in trying to deal with some very difficult challenges.

I think it’s fair to say that a few weeks ago, there were very, very few people who believed that a cessation of hostilities was possible in Syria.  You and I have served as co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force.  Russia and the United States have worked very closely together, along with our allies and countries in the International Syria Support Group, and it is undeniable that the result of that work has produced some progress.  There has been a fragile but nevertheless beneficial reduction in violence – some say as much as 85 to 90 percent – in Syria.  It’s also true that the cessation in hostilities has produced the first significant flow of humanitarian assistance to people, some whom haven’t seen that assistance in several years.  But we both know that more needs to be done in terms of both a reduction of violence and the flow of humanitarian aid.

Yesterday’s events in Brussels underscore to all of us the urgency of every country that has the ability to make a difference to end this evil scourge that comes from Daesh and violent extremism.  I know that many people are very hopeful, Sergey.  Our counterparts, whom you and I have both talked to in the last days, are hopeful that these meetings here in Moscow today have an ability to be able to further define and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible, and also so that we can find a way to cooperate on the other challenges of the region – Yemen, Libya, Middle East peace – and indeed, prove that two powerful nations that have been able to find cooperation in the past few years, despite differences, have an ability in the face of this urgency to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.  And I look forward to some very constructive conversations today to that effect.

So I look forward to our conversations.  Let me take advantage of this moment and wish you a very, very happy birthday.  I hope that it will bring in extra wisdom to our conversations.  You look terrific, Sergey. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, John.  (Inaudible) behind you. (Laughter.)