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John Kerry's Latest Stop In Mideast Diplomacy


Secretary of State John Kerry says there'll be a major diplomatic push on Syria as early as next week. Russian warplanes, of course, have roared into Syria to shore up Bashar al-Assad's regime. And Secretary Kerry held out the possibility that Iran, another supporter of that regime, might take part in talks. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports from Amman, Jordan, the latest stop on the secretary's diplomatic tour.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Kerry says he's trying to thread a difficult needle. He met Friday in Vienna with his counterparts from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And they agreed on the need for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Getting there is the hard part.


JOHN KERRY: We feel a sense of urgency. Every day that goes by, there are more innocent people who are killed, more refugees, more dislocation.

KELEMEN: As early as next Friday, Kerry hopes to join a larger emergency meeting on Syria. Russia says Iran should be at the table. Kerry didn't rule that out.


KERRY: We want to be inclusive and err on the side of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Multilateral diplomacy requires maximizing people who can have a positive impact.

KELEMEN: But he's raising doubts about Russian and Iranian claims that helping Assad is the best way to fight ISIS. He says military aid to the Assad regime is making it easier for the Syrian leader to brutalize his people. For his part, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, took a dig at U.S. policy pointing out that Libya and Iraq are still in deep crisis after the U.S. helped topple those countries' leaders.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: "Syria's fate and the fate of the president must be decided by the Syrian people," he says, "not through uprisings, but through dialogue." Lavrov touted his country's growing influence in the region. He announced to reporters traveling with him that Russia and Jordan, a key U.S. partner, are working together now.


LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: "The armed forces of the two countries, Russian and Jordan, agreed to coordinate their actions, including those of their air forces over Syria," Lavrov said. And he encouraged other countries to coordinate with Moscow, too. Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, says there are good reasons to keep open lines of communication with Moscow.


NASSER JUDEH: Russia is engaged right now, militarily, in the Syrian theater. We're a country that is A, on the receiving end of the humanitarian spillover of the Syrian crisis, with 1.5 million Syrians in Jordan today. But B, we are contiguous to Syria, on the border with Syria, and we are engaged in the front line of the fight against terrorism.

KELEMEN: Secretary Kerry says he understands why Jordan needs to talk with the Russians.


KERRY: So we have no problem whatsoever with this effort. And it may even help make certain that the targets are the targets that they ought to be. And that's exactly in our interest.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and its partners say, so far, Russia has rarely hit ISIS in Syria and is mainly targeting other forces that oppose the Assad regime. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Amman Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.