John Kerry heading to Ukraine amid concern over conflict
US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Ukraine next week amid growing global concern over the intensifying nine-month war in the country`s east that has killed more than 5,000 people.
The trip will come as the EU and the US are mulling fresh sanctions against Russia, accused of arming and aiding the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Kerry`s visit on Thursday aims "to highlight the United States` steadfast support for Ukraine and its people," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
She denied reports the top US diplomat would stop in Moscow first, but revealed he would meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Munich later in the week on the sidelines of annual security talks.
The United States has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of fomenting and sustaining a rebellion in eastern Ukraine that has plunged the former Soviet republic into conflict.
Earlier, the Kommersant daily had said Kerry might meet Lavrov in Russia on February 4 and 5.
Psaki said this was not the case, but insisted Kerry had not cancelled any plans.
"We often have a range of contingency options," she said.
"He is the secretary of state and the nation`s chief diplomat ... His role is to engage internationally, but it`s hard to cancel a trip that wasn`t fully planned."
Kerry will hold talks in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.
The talks would focus on "how we can work together to de-escalate the situation on the ground."
While Washington has been providing non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainians to battle the pro-Moscow rebels, Psaki reiterated the US administration had still not made any decision on whether to provide weapons and lethal support.
She also said there were no plans for Kerry to meet with any of the rebel leaders, adding that Washington is supporting efforts, particularly led by European nations, to broker an end to the fighting.
Kerry will then attend the Munich Security Conference, an annual international event for senior officials and experts, between February 6 and 8.
Apart from Lavrov, he will meet with a range of different officials, although talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are not yet confirmed, Psaki said.