The US and Russia have failed to agree on a plan to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, with Washington urging Moscow to pull back its troops. Russia has suggested its smaller neighbor adopt a less unified federal system.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Ukraine itself would have to be involved in any decision to resolve the crisis.
"We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table," he told reporters after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris. "The principle is clear. No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine."
Kerry stressed that Russia would also have to withdraw troops amassed close to its border with Ukraine. Washington says there are currently 40,000 Russian troops on the frontier.
"Any real progress in Ukraine must include a pullback of the very large Russian force that is currently massing along Ukraine's borders. Tonight, I raised with the foreign minister our strong concern about these forces."
While acknowledging the force was still on Russian soil, Kerry said their presence was "not helpful" and that it created a negative atmosphere. "The question is not one of right or legality," he said. "The question is one of strategic appropriateness and whether it's smart at this moment of time to have troops massed on the border."
Kerry said the US still considered Russia's annexing of Crimea to be illegal. He added that both sides had made suggestions about ways to ease tensions.
'Ukraine cannot function as unified'
Lavrov said the pair had agreed on the need to seek "points of tangency," such as working with Ukraine's government to improve the rights of Russian speakers living predominantly in the east and south of the country.
However, he said Ukraine could not function as a "unified state" and that it should instead become a loose federation of regions, with each able to choose its own economic model, language and religion.
"We are convinced that federalism is a very important element of the constitutional reforms (Kiev must implement)," he said.
"We have to find a consensus, a compromise between the regions of Ukraine.
"It is us up to the Ukrainians to resolve these questions."
Lavrov said each region should have a say in constitutional reform, with minority and language rights being secured. He also called for the dismantling of allegedly nationalist Ukrainian irregular forces.
The pair were building upon a telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
Russia contests that the government in Ukraine is not legitimate, having ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych by force. Moscow has also defended its annexation of Crimea following a referendum in which the majority of voters on the Black Sea peninsula backed separation from Kyiv in favor of becoming part of Russia.
rc/crh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)