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Kerry, Lavrov discuss ways to de-escalate Ukraine crisis

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about Ukraine during a town hall at the State Department in Washington March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Yur
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about Ukraine during a town hall at the State Department in Washington March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Yur

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Sunday he and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, discussed suggestions for de-escalating the Ukraine crisis during four hours of talks in Paris.

Kerry told a news conference that the United States made clear it still considered Russian actions in Crimea to be "illegal and illegitimate."

"The U.S. and Russia have differences of opinion about events that led to this crisis but both of us recognize the importance of finding a diplomatic solution and simultaneously meeting the needs of the Ukrainian people, and that we agreed on tonight," Kerry said.

"Both sides made suggestions of ways to de-escalate the security and political situation in and around Ukraine," he said.

Kerry and Lavrov were seeking to hammer out the framework of a deal to reduce tensions over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, with Western leaders considering broader sanctions against Russia that would target vital sectors of its economy including its mainstay oil and gas industry.

Kerry and Lavrov hoped to build on a phone call on Friday between presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, according to senior U.S. officials.

Russia's move into Crimea, which followed the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russia president in February, sparked the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War ended two decades ago.

Kerry he had also raised with Lavrov "strong concerns" about the presence of Russian troops on the Ukraine border, which he said created a climate of fear and intimidation.

Washington says there are 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's borders.

Kerry said Ukraine's government had to lead talks about its future. "The United States is consulting with Ukraine at every step of this process and we will not accept a path forward where a legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table," he said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Peter Cooney, Sandra Maler and Frances Kerry)

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