By Sophie Lambroschini/K.P. Foley
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is in Washington for what one U.S. official calls "intensive" talks at the State Department, the White House, and on Capitol Hill. Our correspondents in Moscow and Washington report that the sides hope the meetings signal a warming trend.
Washington, 18 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has come to Washington for what one State Department official describes as an "intensive" set of talks on "the whole range of issues which constitute the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship."
However, the official -- who spoke to RFE/RL on condition his name not be used -- said one of the main items on the agenda for Ivanov and Secretary of State Colin Powell is the fixing of a date and a venue for a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.
It's expected that the two will hold their first meeting in mid to late June, possibly in New York, where both are expected to attend a special United Nations General Assembly Session on HIV/AIDS from 25 June.
Powell and Ivanov met in Cairo in February, but this is the foreign minister's first trip to Washington since Bush took office in January. Thomas Graham, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace expert on U.S.-Russian relations, told RFE/RL that the visit is very important for both nations.
"I think this is all part and parcel of an effort to re-engage Russia after a couple of months of real disengagement as the administration was getting itself set up. There are a number of issues that they have to discuss in addition to missile defense. I think it's clear that one of the items on the agenda will be a summit of some sort, whether it's possible for the two presidents to agree on a date before the G-7, G-8 is scheduled to meet in Genoa at the end of July."
Besides the summit preparations, the Russians and the U.S. are expected to continue talking about the controversial topic of missile defense, specifically the Bush administration's plans to proceed with development of a system to protect the U.S. from an enemy ballistic missile attack. Russia has expressed opposition to the proposal, saying among other things that it violates the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a pact Russia considers a foundation stone of arms control.
The U.S. sent high-level delegations to explain the proposal to European allies, Asian partners, and to Russia last week. Russian officials remained wary of the plan but the U.S. said it did not expect to change anyone's mind last week.
Opposition to the U.S. project does not seem to be universal in Russia. Deputy Duma Speaker and member of the liberal Yabloko faction Vladimir Lukin suggests that Russia should take into account what he called "new political realities" in the area of missile defense while maintaining a world balance of strategic forces.
Lukin said that Russian diplomacy says "no" too often and should adapt its priorities in accordance with "what is possible."
Dmitry Treninin of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office says the Russian leadership actually has a pragmatic view.
"Russia knows that it can't afford a confrontation with America and an arms race. And if you read attentively President Putin's statements, if you consider the meaning of Russia's proposal of a European anti-missile system, it is mainly interested in maintaining stability and of keeping a certain level and quality of relations with the United States including in the sector of arms control. And this is a lot more important than the situation around a specific treaty."
In Washington, Graham says the meeting is also meant "to demonstrate that the warming trend in U.S.-Russian relations that began two, three, four weeks ago is continuing.
"I think it's important to remember that relations have been on a downward trajectory for some time. This doesn't commence simply with the inauguration of President Bush. I think if you look back over the past two or three years you will see that U.S.-Russian relations were heading south (deteriorating)."
Graham says this is the result of a combination of factors. This includes the fact that Putin was only inaugurated last May. And Graham says the Russian leadership had already decided that there was not much of substance that could be accomplished during the last year of the term of former President Bill Clinton.
Then, he said, the new Bush administration needed time to prepare.
"It took some time after Bush was inaugurated simply because the new administration had to get its feet on the ground. It had to get the key people in place and it had to begin to rethink how to conduct U.S.-Russian relations. So I don't think that there's anything unusual that it took them two or three months and now they're just finally beginning to get the policy together, flesh it out, and what we're seeing is an effort to engage Russia on those issues that the administration believes are important."
In addition to Powell, Ivanov is also expected to see President Bush and his senior advisers and to meet with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.