Unusual

Potato diplomacy: Lavrov gives Kerry ice-breaking gift

SOCHI: After months of raging tensions over Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to break the ice Tuesday by giving his US counterpart John Kerry two baskets full of potatoes and tomatoes.

Kerry was in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for high-stakes talks with Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin, on his first visit to Russia in two years.

Lavrov surprised his guest by presenting Kerry with a basket of ripe red tomatoes and another one full of potatoes, the Russian foreign ministry said.

“It’s sunny in Sochi today,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook, an apparent reference not only to the blue skies over the city but also the upbeat mood at the talks.

Potatoes as presents have become a running joke between Kerry and Lavrov, with Kerry presenting his Russian counterpart with two large Idaho potatoes when the two met for talks on Syria in Paris in January, 2014.

The food baskets carry added resonance given that Moscow has slapped an embargo on US and European produce in response to Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

In Sochi, the Russian delegation also presented Washington’s top diplomat with a T-shirt commemorating Victory Day, which Russia celebrated on Saturday.

Kerry for his part gave his hosts a list of Russian newspaper clips which “in his view do not reflect the real potential of wide-ranging Russian-US relations which, in his view, need to be improved,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Kerry also gave Lavrov a “dark brown leather writing portfolio similar to what the US Secretary of State carries on all his trips and uses in many of his meetings,” a State of Department spokeswoman told AFP.

Earlier in the day Kerry and Lavrov laid wreaths at a World War II memorial to mark 70 years since Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

Many see the high-profile meeting as a sign that the two Cold-War foes are ready for an improvement in ties after relations collapsed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year.

“A new season is beginning in relations between the United States and Russia,” Russia’s broadsheet Kommersant said. -AFP

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