- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) - Some of the biggest names in U.S. diplomacy of the past decades met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other Kremlin leaders Friday, in an effort to improve frosty relations that experts say could threaten many U.S. foreign policy goals.

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

After greeting a delegation led by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Medvedev praised the American initiative, first announced by Vice President Joe Biden, to “press the reset button” on U.S.-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 U.S. Cold War strategy toward the Soviet Union, said he and a group including former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Sen. 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 U.S. group hoped the Russian leader’s April meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in London 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.

Experts 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Friday. “The reset … has really begun.”

While the Kremlin has welcomed the U.S. initiatives, it has also sent signals that it is up to Washington to make concessions, not Moscow, if relations are to improve.

Ryabkov expressed confidence that Moscow and Washington can resolve deep differences over the proposed U.S. 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. He said Moscow wants an equal say in evaluating threats, plotting responses and designing any missile shield in the region.

“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.

Ryabkov also said missile defenses and offensive weapons subject to cuts under treaties like START are “inextricably linked.” He suggested Russia could hold back on an arms control pact if it is dissatisfied with U.S. moves on missile defense.

Washington says the missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic would protect against a potential threat from Iran. The Obama administration has told Russia that it could eliminate the need for such a system by using its influence on Iran to help ensure Tehran poses no threat.

But Ryabkov said Moscow sees no signs that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, indicating the Kremlin does not plan to toughen its stance toward Tehran.

He welcomed Obama’s address to the Iranian people _ a video released Friday from Washington that said the U.S. is prepared to end years of strained relations if Tehran tones down its bellicose rhetoric.

“We are moving along the path that we believe should lead to the disappearance of concern about Iran’s nuclear program. The path proposed by the Russian Federation is the path of dialogue,” he said.

It is not clear if Russia is adopting a tough position to give itself room to bargain, or whether it will refuse to make concessions in upcoming negotiations.


Associated Press writers Steve Gutterman, Lynn Berry and Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report.

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