Kerry and Lavrov Start Syria Negotiations With Old Man Jokes

Syrian Peace talks might be stalled, but the two are enjoying the quality time

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Mar 24, 2016 at 12:54 PM ET

Syrian peace talks might be hitting a rough patch, but at least John Kerry and his Russian counterpart are getting in lots of quality bonding time.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kicked off a meeting in Moscow Thursday with some jovial dad jokes—and Russian media loved it, even as peace talks in Geneva stalled.

“Let me take advantage of this moment to wish you a very very happy birthday,” Kerry said, before introducing the meeting’s agenda to Lavrov at a negotiations table. “I know that it will bring you extra wisdom in our conversations today. You look terrific for 39,” he said to laughs in the room.

“Thank you very much. If you were to measure wisdom by the number of birthdays, I’d still be behind you,” Lavrov responded, prompting more laughter. “As long as you respect your elders,” Kerry joked back.

Russian social media seized the comedic moment.

Translation: “Kerry and Lavrov teased each other.”

Translation: “We also want to be part of Russia.”

Translation: [Parody account of Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko “I called #Kerry, he was showing off, saying he was already celebrating Lavrov’s birthday in Mosow. Everything’s shit, I’m going to the sauna.”

The exchange happened just a day after rumors flew in the Russian press that an acoustic guitar Kerry brought to Russia was a birthday gift for Lavrov, whose birthday was March 21. Kremlin Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook Thursday that it was, in fact, Kerry’s personal guitar he travels the world with (in case the need arises for any diplomatic jamming, we suppose).

According to Reuters, the peace talks in Geneva between the different sides of the Syrian conflict are “bogged down,” and Kerry is urging the Kremlin to persuade its ally, Syrian President Bashar al Assad, to compromise. According to Western officials, the Syrian government has so far only discussed “procedural issues” in negotiations, and not the potential replacement of Assad’s regime.

Kerry and Lavrov spoke for four hours on Thursday, Zakharova said in a statement after the jokesters’ meeting. Kerry said in the meeting a partial truce in Syria had reduced deaths and injuries in the past few weeks there, but he urged a bigger reduction in violence and emphasized the need for humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.