Clinton seeks new U.S. relationship with Russia

17:30, 06 March 2009
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No major decisions...

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday holds Washington`s first high-level meeting with Russia since President Barack Obama took office in January, seeking to ease tensions and win help over Afghanistan, according Reuters.

No major decisions were expected when she meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for dinner in Geneva but the Obama administration hopes to improve relations after a post-Cold War low during George W. Bush`s presidency.

When Russia sent tanks and troops into Georgia last year, the Bush administration sought to isolate Moscow, particularly in international institutions such as NATO, which suspended ties.

Clinton said Friday she wanted a fresh start, but said divisions remained on NATO expansion and Russia`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.

"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."

Clinton earlier said in Brussels that Washington was very troubled by the use of energy as a tool of intimidation, a reference to Russia`s decision to cut off gas exports to Europe via Ukraine in a contract dispute with Kiev.

But Clinton said Russia was an important member of the group of powers seeking to persuade Iran to renounce nuclear weapons.

In a decision likely to help the atmosphere, NATO agreed on Thursday to resume formal ties with Russia in hopes of securing greater support for the alliance`s Afghan military campaign.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said one of the main tasks of the meeting was to "define the mood" of relations.

"We await with cautious optimism the outcome of these talks," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The Obama administration wants to "press the reset button" and has focused on Afghanistan, missile defense, nuclear disarmament and Iran as areas for possible movement.

The Kremlin says it is ready to widen cooperation and Russian officials believe that unless the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is contained, Islamist militancy could spread through former Soviet states in Central Asia and reach Russia.

MISSILE SHIELD

Washington is considering nearly doubling its military presence in Afghanistan and wants to secure alternative supply routes as militants have attacked convoys using routes via Pakistan.

Kyrgyzstan last month decided to close a U.S. military base used to supply the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, and Friday ended similar deals with other coalition members.

The United States and Russia have clashed over a missile shield Washington is planning in Europe to deter any attack from a country such as Iran, and Clinton says she wants to get talks with Russia over the issue on a "serious track."

The plan to site missiles and a radar tracking station in former Soviet bloc countries Poland and the Czech Republic has angered Moscow, which sees it as a threat.

U.S. officials say Washington has offered to slow down deployment of the shield in exchange for Moscow`s help in curbing Iran`s nuclear ambitions.

Obama, who has been lukewarm on missile defense, has denied cutting a deal with Moscow. Russia has said it was willing to talk about the shield but saw Iran`s nuclear program, which the West suspects is for atomic weapons, as a separate issue.

An early area of U.S.-Russian cooperation is likely to be on replacing the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, which expires at the end of this year.

Russia hopes Washington will revive a bilateral civilian nuclear pact, potentially worth billions of dollars in trade, which was withdrawn from the U.S. Congress over Georgia.

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