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U.S. Envoy John Kerry Discusses Climate Change With Russian Officials In Moscow

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Even as the Earth is warming, relations with Russia remain in a deep freeze. So it is noteworthy that President Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, was in Moscow this week. The former secretary of state is the most senior administration official to visit Russia since Biden took office. NPR's Lucian Kim was the only U.S. journalist to speak with Kerry as he wrapped up three days of talks, including a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lucian is here now.

Hey there.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hey.

KELLY: So three days of talks - I'm thinking that's a long time in the world of diplomacy. Do we know what all he talked about and with whom?

KIM: Well, Kerry told me that his focus here was exclusively on fighting climate change, specifically in implementing the Paris agreement and also preparing for a big climate summit in Scotland this fall. Russia is a major contributor of greenhouse gases, so getting the Kremlin on board is really important here. During his visit, Kerry spoke to a lot of Kremlin officials, including President Putin himself. But, you know, given how much else is going on in U.S.-Russian relations right now, I pressed him on whether he and Putin spoke about more than just climate.

JOHN KERRY: We talked about the climate reductions and the very brief, but nevertheless substantive, notation for both of us regarding the cyber situation at this point in time. But I'm not going to go into that at all here.

KIM: So as you can hear, he's very careful in choosing his words. But cyber is the main issue right now. Following President Biden's summit with Putin last month, there was another ransomware attack blamed on a Russian cyber gang. And this week, that group suddenly went offline, and nobody knows exactly why.

KELLY: A brief but substantive notation - OK. We will (laughter) - we will await details on that. Meanwhile, I mean, John Kerry knows Moscow well from his days as secretary of state. He knows the Kremlin. They know him. What kind of reception did he receive?

KIM: Well, one Russian newspaper here wrote that Kerry didn't just get a warm reception, he got a hot one (laughter). Kerry really knows everyone here. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calls him Dear John and said that this visit was a positive signal. As secretary of state, Kerry also met Putin numerous times, and Putin gave him a full hour on the phone today. I asked Kerry how, given the personal relationships he has, his presence in Moscow will affect U.S.-Russian relations overall.

KERRY: Personally, obviously, I think it's helpful to have the countries talking together and trying to find something where you can have common ground and make things happen.

KELLY: Right. And the question is, can they find common ground, whether it's on climate issues or anything else, given, as you note, that the relationship between Moscow and Russia - it is so fraught right now?

KIM: Well, climate change is one of those very few areas where both countries are not in conflict. They're both huge polluters and realize things have to change. Climate is an uncontroversial issue that especially Russia sees as an additional field where it can engage the United States. From the Kremlin's point of view, these kinds of talks with John Kerry add to Russia's prestige. And for the Biden administration, it's an easy way to start some kind of dialogue that may lead to an improvement in relations.

KELLY: That is NPR's Lucian Kim, talking about his interview today with once-secretary-of-state-turned-climate-envoy John Kerry in Moscow.

Lucian, thanks very much.

KIM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEBASTIEN TELLIER'S, "LA RITOURNELLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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