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With 'Reset' In Motion, Clinton And Lavrov To Meet In Geneva


Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov (file photo)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov (file photo)

(RFE/RL) -- One day after NATO announced it was restoring ties with Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are preparing to meet in Geneva, where clues could emerge as to whether the two sides will succeed in forging greater cooperation on issues like missile defense, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The United States has announced its desire to "reset" relations with Russia, which had grown increasingly hostile in recent years.

The working dinner marks the first meeting of the Russian foreign minister and U.S. secretary of state since President Barack Obama entered the White House in January.

Under Obama, a drumbeat for improved U.S.-Russian ties has begun, with the U.S. president and his top officials calling for relations between the two powers to be "reset." The first step came on March 5, when Washington successfully lobbied the NATO military alliance to restore full working ties with Moscow that had been cut since August, when the alliance said Russia's war in Georgia made "business as usual" impossible.

"We consider the decision to be a positive one, and we take account of the complex and difficult path that NATO had to overcome to correct the position that it took in August when it adopted the slogan that became so popular, 'No business as usual,'" Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in Brussels on March 5. "[That] is now thrown into the garbage can."

Spirit Of Cooperation...

U.S. officials have expressed hope that improved relations with Russia could help the U.S. move forward on a number of Washington's key policy aims. Moscow's cooperation is seen as essential on issues ranging from nuclear disarmament to Iran.

Speaking on March 6, Clinton noted another area of potential cooperation -- arms control. Russia and the United States are discussing ways to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which will expire in December this year. Lavrov has said arms control will be a priority at the Geneva meeting, and Clinton appeared ready for "vigorous" talks.

"We intend to vigorously engage on this [with Foreign Minister Lavrov] in preparation for having a START agreement that will continue on beyond the one that expires at the end of this year," she said. "We are looking at all aspects of our relationship when it comes to offensive and defensive weapons, not just in START, but across the board with our nonproliferation consultation."

Clinton has acknowledged the historical prickliness of U.S.-Russian relations, which sank to post-Cold War lows under George W. Bush.

Moscow and Washington were particularly divided on the issue of Ukraine and Georgia, which enlisted U.S. support in their NATO membership bids, to the Kremlin's great chagrin.

Clinton on March 5 expressed continued U.S. backing of Tbilisi and Kyiv in their membership aims, but she said that occasional disagreements should not stand in the way of bigger areas of mutual concern.

"While the alliance won't agree and, indeed, need not agree on every issue relating to Russia, we can and do agree that we must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest," Clinton said. "We also agree we must find ways to manage our differences with Russia where they persist and stand firm where our principles or our vital interests are at stake."

...In Select Areas

One of the topics that Clinton and Lavrov are expected to discuss is Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts are entering their eighth year with no resolution in sight.

Russian has pledged its readiness for "full-fledged and comprehensive cooperation" with NATO forces in Afghanistan and has allowed cargo for U.S. troops to pass through Russian territory, as an alternative to Pakistani supply routes that have come under increasing militant attacks.

The United States is also keen to collaborate with Russia on resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The United States has led efforts to censure Iran for its program, which Washington says is aimed at creating a weapons arsenal.

Moscow, which has been one of Tehran's main suppliers of civilian nuclear technology, could prove an essential ally in preventing a weapons buildup in Iran.

In addition to Afghanistan and Iran, Clinton and Lavrov are also likely to discuss U.S. plans to build components of a missile-defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. The plan, which aims to defend U.S. allies against missile strikes from Iran, was a pet Bush administration project.

Clinton said the United States remains committed to missile defense, and said she hoped to encourage Russia to reconsider an offer to collaborate on the project.

"We believe that Russia and the United States have the opportunity to cooperate on missile defense, to do joint research and joint development and even, eventually, assuming we can reach such an agreement, joint deployment," she said.

Russia has made no secret of its displeasure at the prospect of having U.S. radar facilities and missile interceptors near its Western border. Recent news reports indicate the White House may be willing to offer concessions on missile defense in exchange for greater cooperation on Iran.

with agency reporting
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