- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to hold her first meeting with her Russian counterpart since taking office in early March in Geneva, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Friday.

The announcement came as a top U.S. official said during a visit to Moscow that Washington is prepared to “reconfigure” its planned missile-defense shield in Central and Eastern Europe to include Russia and other European countries.

Mr. Solana, who met with Mrs. Clinton at the State Department Thursday, told reporters that her talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled for March 6, a day after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. The State Department declined to comment on a possible meeting.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who also met with Mrs. Clinton Thursday, said she had accepted an invitation to attend a conference on Gaza’s reconstruction in Cairo on March 2.

Both the United States and Russia have said they are ready to improve their relations and cooperate on various issues.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden said at a security conference in Munich last weekend that the Obama administration was ready to press the “reset button” for better ties and did not push on issues of NATO expansion or missile defense, which Russia opposes.

William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs and former ambassador to Moscow, held talks in Moscow this week.

“We are also open to the possibility of cooperation, both with Russia and NATO partners, in relation to a new configuration for missile defense which would use the resources that each of us have,” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency Friday.

Mrs. Clinton sent Mr. Burns to Moscow to try to retain access to a key military base in Central Asia. U.S. officials said they wanted to better understand the link that Washington says exists between the Kyrgyz government’s decision to end the U.S. lease of the Manas air base and a Russian offer of $2 billion in aid for Kyrgyzstan.

Moscow insists that there is no connection between the two.

Washington deems the Manas base vital to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan — especially at a time when the U.S. is preparing to surge 30,000 more troops into the country.

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