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Secretary of State John Kerry had a rare direct meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Tuesday, with everything from Iran and Yemen to Ukraine and ISIS on the agenda.
The secretary of state landed in Sochi, and later in the day met with Putin for a conversation that lasted for more than three hours. Earlier, Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for over four hours.
"Putin and I talk regularly, but we rarely have the chance for as long as we did today, as uninterrupted as we did today," Kerry told reporters adding that there were obviously issues President Barack Obama wanted him to share with Lavrov and Putin.
Kerry and Putin also discussed that a ceasefire agreement signed earlier this year in Minsk, Belarus by several parties, including Russia and Ukraine, is the "absolutely the best path forward," Kerry said.
The Russian leaders and Kerry continue to disagree on certain components, the secretary of state said. Russia has consistently denied sending soldiers and weapons to the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine and, in response, western nations have issued sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine.
Those sanctions, Kerry reiterated during the meetings with Russian leaders, will be "rolled back" once Russia fulfills ceasefire terms.
Kerry called the meeting an "important visit at an important time," and added that he "didn't come here with the expectation that we would define — or have a specific breakthrough, but have an open dialogue with Russia's leaders."
It is Kerry's first visit to the country since the Ukraine crisis, which sent relations between Washington and Moscow plummeting to post-Cold War lows.
The brief stop comes ahead of a summit of NATO foreign ministers in Turkey on Wednesday.
"It's important to try to talk to the senior decision maker,” a senior State Department official explained to reporters ahead of the visit. “We have an opportunity to do that."
The official added: “Key subjects that we anticipate discussing … include next steps in … negotiations on Iran — we're coming into the final six weeks, it's important to stay tightly aligned; the regional issues that are hot, including Yemen, Libya. We'll also anticipate talking about the threat from [ISIS] and particularly events in Syria. And then, of course, we'll discuss Ukraine and the vital importance of full and fast and complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
The official also hinted at future Western action in chaos-stricken Libya.
"There may be UN Security Council action required in near days and weeks. It'll be important to have Russia aligned with us and on side supporting the UN talks," the official said, adding that situation in Yemen "is at a critical moment."
The relationship between the United States and Russia has been badly damaged over Ukraine.
Western nations accuse Russia of supporting separatists in Ukraine by providing weaponry and manpower — a charge Moscow denies. Russia, meanwhile, has bristled at Washington's pledge to provide Ukraine with military assistance in the form of hardware and training.
Diplomats in Moscow and Washington are also at odds over a range of other issues.
Russia last month announced it would lift a five-year ban on delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, drawing a hasty rebuke from the United States. The White House said the missile system would give the Islamic republic's military a strong deterrent against any air attack. The Kremlin argues that the S-300 is a purely defensive system that will not jeopardize the security of Israel or any other countries in the Middle East.
Kerry said he and Russian leaders previously spoke about "the perception of violations".
"What is important is that now both sides are making the choices to move forward," Kerry said.
On Syria, Russia has defied a chorus of international condemnation to remain fast to the embattled government of President Bashar Assad.
Kerry said both the U.S. and Russia "understand and fully accept the degree in which the situation in Syria is increasingly dangerous."
— Katie Wall and The Associated Press contributed to this report.