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Clinton Sees Areas Of Disagreement With Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels
LONDON (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she wanted a fresh start to relations with Russia, but said divisions remained on NATO expansion and Moscow's relations with its neighbors.

"There are areas where we just flat-out disagree and we are not going to paper those over," Clinton told the BBC in an interview ahead of a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.

"We will not recognize the breakaway areas of Georgia, we do not recognize any sphere of influence on the part of Russia and their having some kind of veto power over who can join the EU or who can join NATO," she added.

Clinton was also overtly critical of the Bush administration's approach to Russia.

"There was a rather confrontational approach towards Russia in the prior administration. How much that contributed to Russian behavior I think is a legitimate question to ask," she said.

Clinton is keen to find areas of mutual agreement with countries that have had strained relations with the United States, such as Iran, as the new administration looks for help in tackling Afghanistan.

Iran is fighting the import of narcotics over its border with Afghanistan and Clinton thinks this problem might encourage the Iranians to attend an international conference on Afghanistan she is planning for later this month.

"They [the Iranians] were helpful early on in our efforts in Afghanistan, there were almost daily contacts [between ambassadors in Kabul], a little-known fact, " she said.

"We will invite them [to the conference], whether they come is up to them."