GENEVA, Switzerland — Top US diplomat John Kerry arrived in Switzerland late Sunday for tough talks on Iran and Ukraine, and to push Moscow’s foreign minister to ensure a “credible” probe into the shooting of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Less than a week after accusing Russian officials of lying “to my face” about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kerry is set for tense discussions early Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He will also step up the pace of nuclear talks with Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif with a series of meetings planned over the next three days seeking to seal a political deal by a March 31 deadline.
The gunning down of Jewish opposition figure Nemtsov, a sharp critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has triggered international outcry and calls for an independent investigation into the killing.
Kerry told ABC television before leaving for Geneva that there needed to be a “thorough, transparent, real investigation not just of who actually fired the shots, but who, if anyone may have ordered, or instructed this.”
The US was “enormously saddened to hear of his murder and we hope the authorities will join the world in producing the credible, transparent investigation necessary.”
Putin has said he will personally oversee the probe, and senior State Department officials briefing journalists traveling with Kerry refused to say whether Washington believed that he was the right person to lead the investigation.
The inquiry “must pass muster in the eyes of both the Russian people and internationally,” one official stressed.
Efforts to implement a tattered ceasefire in Ukraine will also top the agenda for Monday morning’s talks between Kerry and Lavrov.
Despite a fall in the number of violations of a truce implemented on February 15 between Russia, Ukraine and the pro-Moscow rebels near the border, it was “too soon to tell if we are in any way out of the woods,” the State Department official said.
“At this point a further pullback of heavy weapons is what’s required. There are continued violations of the agreement that we’ve also noted.”
Kerry will stress again to Lavrov that the US and EU were discussing what additional steps to take to impose further sanctions if Moscow refuses to comply with the ceasefire.
After their talks, the US secretary of state will address the UN Human Rights Council to highlight the need “to continue to shine a spotlight on some of the worst human rights violators throughout the world,” another US official said.
Kerry will then meet in Montreux later Monday with Zarif, for a series of meetings to last into Wednesday afternoon in the Swiss lakeside town on reining in Iran’s nuclear program.
“We have proven that we have slowed Iran’s — even set back — its nuclear program,” Kerry told ABC, referring to a November 2013 interim deal under which Tehran halted most of its enrichment activities in return for sanctions relief.
Experts say the global powers grouped under the P5+1 appear to be closing in on a deal after years of on-off negotiations.
But Kerry cautioned “I can’t promise you we can” reach a comprehensive treaty.
US-Israel ties have plunged in recent weeks as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — expected in Washington Sunday for a controversial address to Congress — has sought to dissuade the US administration from making a deal with Iran he sees as dangerous.
Kerry insisted however that after the interim deal, “we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future.”