Former US diplomats hoping for improved Russian relations

Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin (right), listened to a translation last night during a meeting in Moscow with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin (right), listened to a translation last night during a meeting in Moscow with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. (Alexei Druzhinin/pool)
By Douglas Birch
Associated Press / March 21, 2009
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MOSCOW - Some of the biggest names in US diplomacy of the past decades met with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and other Kremlin leaders yesterday in an effort to improve frosty relations that specialists say could threaten many US foreign policy goals.

In some of his most upbeat comments about US relations since President Obama took office, Medvedev said his meetings with current and former US officials in recent weeks "reflect the goal of our nations to significantly improve ties."

After greeting a delegation led by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Medvedev praised the American initiative, first announced by Vice President Joe Biden, to "press the reset button" on US-Russia relations. "The surprising term 'reset' . . . really reflects the essence of the changes we would like to see," Medvedev said. "We are counting on a reset. I hope it will take place."

Kissinger, an architect of US Cold War strategy toward the Soviet Union, said he and a group including former secretary of state George Shultz and former senator Sam Nunn had discussed energy and other strategic issues with the Russian president.

"I'm happy to report that the differences were not so remarkable and the agreements were considerable," Kissinger said.

Kissinger also told Medvedev the US group hoped the Russian leader's April meeting with Obama would help improve ties.

"We believe in the generally optimistic attitude, and we hope . . . that the meeting between you and our president will begin a new period in our relationship and will lead to concrete results," Kissinger said.

Kissinger also met privately with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday, in a meeting shown briefly on state-run TV.

Specialists say chilly bilateral relations have complicated efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, ease tensions in eastern Europe, and expand the war in Afghanistan.

Kissinger's group has pushed for drastic reductions in global nuclear arsenals. And reviving talks on limits to nuclear arms, especially the START I treaty, which expires in December, is at the top of the US agenda.

But the broader aim appears to be repairing the damage to relations over the past eight years between Washington and Moscow, which are at their lowest point since the early 1980s - a point highlighted by both Russian and US officials in Moscow.

"I see we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe," Nunn told reporters at a briefing.

"We are certain that the low point of this period of chill in our relations is behind us," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters yesterday. "The reset . . . has really begun."

While the Kremlin has welcomed the US initiatives, it has sent signals that it is up to Washington to make concessions if relations are to improve.

Ryabkov expressed confidence that Moscow and Washington can resolve deep differences over the proposed US missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe and forge a new treaty to replace START.

But Ryabkov suggested it is up to Washington to give ground over missile defense.

"We are ready for cooperation on missile defense, but not as a cart horse that is attached to a harness and pulls in a direction given by others," he said.

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