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Reset U.S.-Russian Relations, But Not To Zero

The Obama administration clearly wants a new start with Russia: Vice President Joe Biden has said that he would like to push the "reset button" in America's relations with Moscow.

Clearly, the United States needs a cooperative Russia on many vital issues, from Iran to Afghanistan. And a hostile, isolated Russia could severely damage American interests.

A new start, however, does not mean starting from zero. Washington is in no mood to question the trans-Atlantic security alliance.

In a speech on February 23 at the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a think tank in Brussels, Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO, drew a clear line.

He explained that Washington would be interested to hear more from Moscow about the idea of creating a new security system "from Vancouver to Vladivostok," which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put on the agenda in June last year.

But given the fact that there is already a number of multinational frameworks in which Russia participates, such as the OSCE, Volker sees no need for creating a new institution.

And the United States, he added, would not be interested in anything that would undermine Western cohesion: If "a new thing developed that is only about hard security, that leaves aside democracy and economic dimensions, the human dimension, that draws a division, that draws lines between Europe and the Atlantic community," this would contradict the "guiding principles" shared by the trans-Atlantic community.

In a statement on behalf of the EU in the Joint Session of the Forum for Security Cooperation and Permanent Council of the OSCE on February 18, the Czech EU Presidency has also emphasized that the OSCE is "the natural forum in which to pursue the debate on European security."

The security of the European continent, the statement says, is "inextricably linked with that of North America." And in order to put any doubt aside: "The EU considers that the comprehensive security architecture as developed over years based on existing organizations, shared commitments and principles should not be undermined."

But the EU is, of course, rarely speaking with a single voice. "A true dialogue must be set up" between European institutions "and both Russia and the United States," the Socialist group in the European Parliament said in a statement on February 17.

The statement does not emphasize the need for NATO. Whether this can be read as an implicit opening towards the Kremlin's initiative is up to interpretation. Given the neutralist tendencies of some European socialist or social-democratic parties in the past, it is likely that Medvedev struck a chord.

A further discussion of the Russian president's proposals is not yet scheduled in any of the usual forums.

But what is scheduled is the celebration of the 60th anniversary of NATO in early April, an event that is likely to become a show of unity between Europe and the United States.

-- Ulrich Speck

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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