Saturday, March 21, 2009

MOSCOW | Some of the biggest names in U.S. diplomacy of 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 Obama took office, Mr. 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 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Mr. Medvedev praised the American initiative, first announced by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., 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,” Mr. Medvedev said. “We are counting on a reset. I hope it will take place.”

Mr. 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 Democratic senator from Georgia 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,” Mr. Kissinger said.

Mr. Kissinger also told Mr. Medvedev that the U.S. group hoped the Russian leader’s April meeting with Mr. Obama on the sidelines of the Group of 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,” Mr. Kissinger said.

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 over the past eight years to Washington-Moscow relations, which are at their lowest point since the early 1980s - a point highlighted by Russian and U.S. officials in Moscow.

“I see we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe,” Mr. 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 also has sent signals that it is up to Washington to make concessions, not Moscow, if relations are to improve.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

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