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Russia's Medvedev Pins Hopes On New U.S. President


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on November 14 he hoped U.S. President-elect Barack Obama could help restore mutual trust soured by rows over missile defense and war in Georgia.

In a gesture of goodwill, he made clear Russia was ready for compromise over plans to deploy elements of a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe and promised to hold off on a possible military response to the project.

"U.S.-Russian relations lack the needed mutual trust. We pin such hopes on the arrival of the new U.S. administration," Medvedev, in Washington for a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies, told the Council on Foreign Relations in a speech.

The personal friendship between Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin, who stepped down in May, and U.S. President George W. Bush, who steps down in January, helped to ease strains in Russian-U.S. ties for nearly eight years.

But Russia's August military operation to crush Georgia's attempt to retake a separatist region plunged ties with Washington to a post-Cold War low.

As the United States led international condemnation of Russia, Moscow stepped up opposition to U.S. plans to deploy radar in Poland and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic, intended to defend against possible attacks from Iran.

Russia sees the project as a threat to its security.

A day after this month's U.S. presidential election, Medvedev announced plans to deploy missiles near NATO's borders to neutralize the missile shield installations.

Conciliatory Gesture

But in Washington, Medvedev said Russia would not be the first to escalate the situation. "We will not do anything until America takes the first step," he said.

The Kremlin hopes Obama will be less enthusiastic about the missile shield than Bush and officials have been encouraged by early signals.

"(The) first signal we received shows that our partners think about this program rather than plan to simply rubber-stamp it," Medvedev said.

Putin, now Russia's prime minister, has raised the possibility creating a joint U.S.-Russian anti-missile system, partly by using a radar rented by Russia in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, bordering Iran.

"It's better to have a global missile defense rather than kind of fractured national elements," Medvedev said.

For the first time, he suggested that Moscow might accept something less than cancellation of the missile shield.

"We have a chance to solve the problem through either agreeing on a global [antimissile] system or, as a minimum, to find a solution on the existing programs which would suit the Russian Federation," Medvedev said.

Medvedev insisted his anti-U.S. remarks in a Russian state of the nation address on November 6 were not deliberately timed to put pressure on Obama so soon after his election victory.

"You think it was blackmail," he said. "With all respect to the U.S.A., I did not even think then what day it was."

Medvedev said he would meet Obama soon after he takes office in January and suggested that solving the missile defense issue should not necessarily top their agenda.

He cited other important issues like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, Iran, and North Korea.

"There is no anti-Americanism in Russia, there are problems which have been piling up and chances to solve them," Medvedev said. "In any case, I feel careful optimism."
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