Moscow, March 22 (RFE/RL) - U.S. officials say they now
have more shared interests with Russia than areas of separation.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns told reporters
Thursday that relations have changed: "We agree on more issues than
we disagree," he said.
His words will be put to the test today and tomorrow (Saturday) in
the first formal bi-lateral meeting between U.S. Secretary of State
Warren Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov.
Burns says that in two days of talks they plan to cover a
comprehensive agenda, ranging from arms control and disarmament
issues to military cooperation, and an exchange of views on the
conflicts in Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh and Bosnia.
Primakov, and Christopher first met briefly in Helsinki in early
February to get acquainted after Primakov replaced Andrei Kozyrev as
Russia's foreign minister. They met a second time last week in the
Middle East during a hastily convened international summit on
terrorism, following suicide bombings in Israel.
Burns says "international terrorism has become a big issue" and
another area of mutual interest and cooperation in U.S.-Russia
relations, that will be discussed over the next two days.
U.S. officials were initially wary when Primakov - the former
Pravda correspondent, Arab expert and spymaster - became Russia's
top diplomat. But Burns says Primakov and Christopher have exchanged
letters and telephone calls and developed in a short period of time
what Burns described as "a very strong relationship." Burns says
Christopher "feels he is off to a good start with Primakov" and that
"U.S.-Russian relations are on a solid footing."
The U.S.-Russia "ministerials" as they are called, are held about
twice a year and have developed a certain format and protocol that
has rarely varied in recent years.
Christopher will get to see President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin
today and next time Primakov comes to Washington to meet Christopher,
he is likely to be received at the White House by president Bill
After the talks with Yeltsin, the
full U.S. and Russian delegations, including experts and other
officials, will begin discussions and continue through a working
At some point during the day, Primakov and Christopher are expected
to have a press conference and tell reporters of their progress in
the carefully couched language of officialdom. Great news is not
Much of the talks will be devoted to preparations for a U.S.-Russia
summit next month, and for an international summit of the G-7 group
of wealthy nations on nuclear safety, to be hosted by Russia in April.
Some progress is expected on disarmament issues. But analysts say
the results are not likely to be announced now, but saved for the
summit meetings next month.
Regarding Bosnia, U.S. officials will discuss with the Russian side
results of negotiations with Balkan leaders in Geneva this week, and
prepare for a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers and the five-nation
Contact Group Saturday. Russia is hosting the meeting for the first
The two sides will also review NATO peace-keeping operations in
Bosnia. U.S. officials have been stressing all week that American and
Russian soldiers get on well together, and that their cooperation
could serve as a model for the future, as well as an impetus to
develop closer ties between Russia and NATO.
Christopher hammered home this theme in a speech delivered in Prague
Wednesday on NATO and European security. He stressed that Russia must
be part of Europe's new post-cold-war security structure, and the
best opportunity to do that, he said, is through the NATO
"Partnership for Peace" program.
Burns made the point again yesterday, saying "the U.S. wants to have
a strong Nato-Russian relationship," and that "Russia is fundamental
to Europe's stability and must be included." Burns "the U.S. believes
very strongly that Russia is part of the solution...for a unified,
peaceful, stable Europe."
U.S. officials hope they may thus overcome Russia's firm opposition
to NATO expansion, and dispel any feelings in the Kremlin that Russia
is being left out in the cold, and new lines of division are being
drawn in Europe.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana has had talks with Yeltsin and
Primakov about NATO expansion and was reported as saying yesterday
that Russia's opposition remains firm. Solana briefed Christopher on
his talks last night.
Regarding the suffering in Chechnya, Burns says the U.S. wants to
hear about Yeltsin's new peace plan, agreed last week with his
Security Council. No details of the plan have yet been revealed.
Burns had little encouraging to say about Nagorno-Karabakh, the
Azerbaijani enclave of largely ethnic Armenians that has been the
subject of more than six years of fighting and bloodshed.
Burns says "it is an enormous problem. U.S. officials say the burden
of negotiations has now moved away from the "Organization for
security and cooperation in Europe," and is being conducted chiefly
by the U.S. and Russia in a joint effort.
Burns says Russia is playing a constructive role, and, with the
U.S., is trying to get the parties to negotiate with one another.
This month, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott travelled
to Baku and Erevan to try and invigorate the peace process. But Burns
says "no immediate progress could be reported." He says, however,
that the U.S. and Russia will continue the peace effort and that this
is another area in which they share common goals.
Also today, Christopher will continue a long-standing tradition of
reaching out to a broad spectrum of Russia's political community.
More than a dozen people have been invited to meet Christopher at
Spaso House, the U.S. ambassador's residence. Burns says the group
includes federal assembly deputies, as well as leaders of political
parties, and candidates campaigning for russia's june presidential
Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov has been invited. But Burns
says Vladimir Zhirinovsky is not on the guest list, and neither is
former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.