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Clinton Emphasizes Cooperation In U.S.-Russia Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a town-hall-style meeting at Moscow State University: "Our goal is to be as cooperative as we can."
(RFE/RL) -- Speaking in Moscow on the second and final day of her Russia tour, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that some officials in both the United States and Russia are stuck in the thinking of the Cold War era.

"I will be the first to tell you that we have people, and you have people in your government, who are still living in the past. They do not believe that the United States and Russia can cooperate to this extent," Clinton said.

"They do not trust each other, and we have to prove them wrong. That is our goal. Our goal is to be as cooperative as we can."

Clinton made the remarks during a town-hall-style meeting with students at Moscow State University -- part of a series of informal meetings she has been conducting in an attempt to help redefine relations between Russia and the United States.

The remarks came ahead of a scheduled trip to Kazan, the capital of Russia's Muslim-majority republic of Tatarstan.

Washington and Moscow are trying to "reset" relations that have been damaged in recent years by Russia's war with Georgia, NATO expansion, and stinging U.S. criticism of the Russian human rights record.

In her speech to some 2,000 students, Clinton repeated Washington's call for Russia to show greater respect for human rights. But the overall tone of the secretary of state's remarks was positive and accommodating -- far from the harsh rhetoric of some U.S. officials under the previous administration of George W. Bush.

'Disagreement' In Caucasus

Still, issues of contention remain. In a question-and-answer session that followed Clinton's prepared remarks, she was asked to elaborate on lingering disagreements between the United States and Russia over Georgia and its breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

While Clinton said Washington has been "very candid in expressing our concerns and listening to the Russian concerns. It is very important that neither the Georgians nor the South Ossetians nor the Abkhazians do anything provocative. We have told that to the Georgians, and I am confident that the Russian government has told that to the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"It is a very difficult set of relationships at work in Georgia, but the first and most important goal must be to make sure there is no more conflict."

Clinton said her talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the issue of keeping international observers and peacekeepers in South Ossetia, where it is feared that sporadic violence could boil over into a fresh conflict.

"We believe that it is important to have a constant presence of observers and peacekeepers so there is no basis or no room for something that would lead to further bloodshed," Clinton said.

She added that she and Lavrov "discussed how we can perhaps go back to the drawing boards to create a status-neutral approach to creating that kind of buffer zone -- that kind of observer position -- through Geneva, through the UN, through the OSCE."

The Russia-Georgia conflict saw a souring in NATO's relations with Moscow that has only recently begun to improve. Clinton explained that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration does not want dialogue between Russia and the NATO alliance to be frozen as a result of such conflicts.

"When I became secretary of state, the relationship between NATO and Russia had been broken off. The NATO-Russia Council had stopped meeting because of the very strong feelings that many people had about what happened in Georgia," Clinton said.

"My position was: we might disagree about what happened in Georgia, but we shouldn't stop talking. We have to keep talking," she continued. "So we have reinstated the NATO-Russia Council, so we can have a forum -- so that the United States and Russia will constantly be in communication when something happens that could be a serious challenge to our relationship."

Increased Cooperation -- Even On Missile Defense

Clinton said both sides will have to "keep watching and working" on contentious issues like Georgia to keep all sides calm and "focused on the future" so that disputes can be resolved peacefully.

As an example of such cooperation, Clinton pointed to the agreement signed in Zurich on October 10 between Turkey and Armenia to normalize their relations, calling it "a very significant level of cooperation."

"So where we have a disagreement -- as we do over Georgia -- it should not end everything. We should work together -- and I think that's the kind of new attitude that we are bringing to our relationship," Clinton said.

Clinton said Washington's recent unilateral decision to drop plans for a missile-defense shield in Europe also illustrates how the Obama administration is acting differently from that of Bush.

"We concluded that a nuclear-armed Iran would cause a threat to greater Europe -- to western Russia, as well as to Eastern Europe and Western Europe," Clinton said.

"We concluded that their threat, however, was not what the prior administration had evaluated, because they had been worried about Iran developing intercontinental ballistic missiles -- longer-range missiles," she added. "Iran has not moved as quickly on long-range missiles as they have on short- and medium-range missiles."

Clinton said it was the results of the Obama administration's review of Bush-era missile-defense plans -- rather than any quid pro quo over Moscow's objections to European-based missile defense -- that led to the decision to drop the system.

"So we decided to eliminate the prior administration's plans and instead, to develop what we call a 'phased adaptive approach' that is aimed at preventing [the development in Iran] of short- and medium-range missiles," Clinton said. "And we shared this with our Russian colleagues."

Clinton said Washington hopes that Russia will cooperate with the United States and NATO on missile defense in the future. She said Washington is committed to transparency and to cooperation as it negotiates with Russia on a new strategic arms limitation treaty aimed at reducing the size of both countries' nuclear arsenals.