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Kerry 'hopeful' about meeting with Lavrov

After an icy meeting with his Russian counterpart Lavrov, John Kerry accused the UNHRC of being preoccupied with Israel. At the same event, the Iranian foreign minister said a nuclear deal could be finished this week.

After greeting each other with neither a smile nor small talk, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that he was hopeful

his meeting with the Russian foreign minister

, Sergei Lavrov, would be "the start of a change which would be an improvement for everybody."

The meeting between the secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister followed on the heels of comments made by Kerry last week in which he accused Moscow of "lying to my face." Though US officials deny that Kerry was referring to Lavrov, insisting instead that he was referencing public statements and media reports, Lavrov is the only Russian official Kerry is known to have met face-to-face in recent months.

Moscow has repeatedly denied being involved in the Ukraine conflict, despite United Nations reports that there was credible evidence to "indicate a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and foreign fighters" from Russia. On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decried the fighting that

has taken 6,000 lives

and caused "merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure."

In congressional testimony last week, John Kerry told US lawmakers that fresh sanctions against Russia had already been prepared and suggested they could be implemented soon. However, US officials have since stressed that they will wait to see if the ceasefire and follow-on commitments to end the violence in Ukraine are complied with before moving forward with fresh sanctions.

"I underscored this morning that if that does not happen…then there would be inevitably further consequence that would place added strains on Russia's troubled economy," Kerry told reporters, in reference to Monday's conversation with Lavrov.

The UNHRC has an Israel "obsession"

Kerry and Lavrov spoke on the sidelines of a meeting of the UNHRC in Geneva, which the secretary of state also addressed. In his speech on global human rights violations, he faulted the UN body for its "obsession with Israel," to the detriment of other people suffering throughout the world.

The secretary of state mentioned severe abuses in the rebel-controlled area of Ukraine and condemned North Korea's human rights record as "appalling." He said that "there is no freedom of expression, worship, or political dissent," and accused North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un of executing anyone who disagreed with him and starving his citizens.

He also charged the UNHRC of "undermining" its own credibility by obsessing over Israel, creating an unbalanced focus in the organization's work.

Iran and West still can't agree on sanctions

Deutschland Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz 2015 Javad Zarif

Zarif, pictured here at the Munich Security Conference in February, said a nuclear deal is within reach - if the West removed painful sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who will speak with John Kerry later this week in ongoing

negotiations over his country's nuclear program

, was also at the Geneva conference. According to Reuters news agency, Zarif said a deal could be reached as early as this week if the West had sufficient political will and rolled back sanctions against Iran.

"Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don't go together," Zarif said, explaining that one of the major stumbling blocks in the negotiations was how fast sanctions would be lifted.

When asked about his expectations for his meeting with Kerry, however, Zarif was slightly optimistic, saying progress had been made and he had hope that negotiations would progress even further in his next meeting with the US top diplomat.

es/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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