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Clinton Upbeat On Russia 'Reset' After Moscow Talks

  • Gregory Feifer

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a press conference in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a press conference in Moscow

Hillary Clinton has said she's pleased with the effects so far of Washington's rapprochement with Moscow during her first visit to the Russian capital as U.S. secretary of state.

She said both sides had agreed to work more closely on a missile defense system. But she doesn’t appear to have succeeded in convincing the Kremlin to back a tough U.S. policy toward Iran.

Sitting next to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference reminiscent of another era in U.S.-Russia relations, Clinton said she felt "very good" about President Barack Obama's "reset" of relations with Russia.

"We really are committed to this relationship," she said. "We believe strongly that working together step by step we are transforming a relationship that was once defined by the shadow of mutually assured destruction into one that is based on mutual respect."

Relations reached a low last summer after Russia's invasion of former Soviet Georgia. Angry sparring in the UN between Moscow and Washington seemed reminiscent of Cold War exchanges.

'Step In The Right Direction'

In Moscow on October 13, Clinton said the United States and Russia should work more closely on missile defense.

"We are very interested in working with Russia to develop cooperation," she said, "including a joint threat assessment and intensified efforts to establish a joint data exchange center, as our presidents agreed to in July, as a means of making missile defense a common enterprise against what we believe are increasingly common threats."

They rarely produce results, but there are cases in which sanctions are unavoidable. That happens in situations in which all political and diplomatic methods are exhausted. The situation in Iran is far from there.
Lavrov praised Obama's recent decision to scrap Bush administration plans to install part of the missile shield in Central Europe, which Moscow said would threaten Russia. He said Obama's action was a "step in the right direction."

"At the very least it played an important psychological role," he said.

But Lavrov said Moscow is still studying the new missile-shield plans. Last week he said the new proposal may pose even a bigger threat to Russia.

If both sides appeared to move closer on missile defense, Clinton appeared to have made no progress on what was believed to have been the top item on her agenda: Iran.

Washington wants Russia to back a tough new stance on Iran after Tehran admitted the existence of a previously secret uranium-enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom last month.

Clinton's trip comes as Western countries are mounting pressure on Iran to accept a package of international incentives in return for its cooperation over demands to stop enriching uranium. Washington is leading a drive to impose new sanctions if Tehran doesn't comply by the end of the year.

Iran says it's only interested in developing peaceful nuclear energy. But Western countries suspect Tehran of concealing a secret nuclear weapons program.

The Kremlin has long opposed Western pressure on Tehran, and -- as a permanent member of the UN Security Council -- the Kremlin has veto power over any UN sanctions. Russia has serious business considerations in addition to political ones: Moscow is building a nuclear power plant in Iran that's due to go online by the end of the year.

'We Did Not Ask For Anything'

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sounded what appeared to be a new note, saying, "If all possibilities to influence the situation are exhausted, then we can use international sanctions."

But after the October 13 meeting, Lavrov stressed that Medvedev never said sanctions were unavoidable.

"He said that we treat sanctions in general very reservedly," Lavrov said. "They rarely produce results, but there are cases in which sanctions are unavoidable. That happens in situations in which all political and diplomatic methods are exhausted. The situation in Iran is far from there."

Clinton downplayed differences between the two sides, saying, "We did not ask for anything today," adding that the time for sanctions hadn't arrived.

Both Lavrov and Clinton said progress was being made on another big issue: a major nuclear weapons treaty both sides say they want to sign by the end of the year, when the 1991 START nuclear arms pact expires.

The two officials also discussed cooperation over Afghanistan and North Korea.

Clinton later met the Russian president outside Moscow, where Medvedev welcomed U.S. and Russian efforts to broker a peace deal between Turkey and Armenia as "a good example of our cooperation," according to Reuters.

Clinton later met with human rights activists before a planned trip 800 kilometers east of Moscow on October 14 to the city of Kazan, capital of the largely Muslim Tatarstan region. U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said last week that Clinton wants to see more of Russia than just Moscow.

"Really to understand Russia and its vibrancy and its diversity, you have to get outside of Moscow," he said. "And I think Kazan was a good place to go because it really shows that the Russian Federation is a multiethnic country."

The trip will underscore Obama's promise to engage with a broad section of Russian society beyond the Kremlin.

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