- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

GENEVA | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pressed the reset button on the U.S.-Russian relationship Friday - literally.

After their first meeting, which both described as a very good beginning, they said they could reach common ground on certain issues, such as missile defense and nuclear arms reductions, even as they continue to disagree on developments in Central Asia and Kosovo.

“This is a fresh start - not only to improve our bilateral relationship, but to lead the world in important areas, particularly with respect to nuclear weapons and nuclear security,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference with Mr. Lavrov in Geneva, where the meeting took place.

The Russian minister, who had met briefly with Mrs. Clinton at a donors’ conference for Gaza in Egypt on Monday, said he was pleased with the session.

“I think we can arrive at a common view, both in the context of strategic offensive weapon and missile defense,” he said.

Eager to improve ties after serious tensions during the George W. Bush administration and to lighten up the mood from the start, Mrs. Clinton’s first order of business when she met with Mr. Lavrov was to give him a red button on a black-and-yellow base inside a gift box with a ribbon.

It was the material expression of the symbolic outreach Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made to Moscow in a speech in Munich last month, in which he said it was time to “reset the button” in U.S.-Russia ties. The phrase has entered the vernacular since then in referring to Russia.

“In anticipation of this important meeting and our time here together, I wanted to present you a little gift, which represents what President Obama, Vice President Biden and I have been saying,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We want to reset our relationship, and so we will do it together.”

The secretary had more reasons to laugh than she expected. As it turned out, the State Department had written “reset” in English and what it thought was its Russian equivalent.

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Mrs. Clinton asked Mr. Lavrov.

“You got it wrong,” he said, adding that the word he was looking at meant “overcharge” or “overload.”

Then the two ministers pressed the button together amid laughter in the room.

At the news conference later, Mrs. Clinton tried to make the best of the mistake, saying it was not wrong after all. “Because we are resetting the button, the minister and I have an overload of work,” she remarked, smiling.

On a more serious note, the secretary predicted that negotiations with the Russians on an extension and revision of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will be completed before it expires in December.

“We intend to have an agreement by the end of the year - this is of the highest priority to our governments,” she said.

The two sides agreed on a “work plan” on how the negotiations will proceed, with “a very specific set of objectives,” she added, but did not elaborate. Although the Russians have appointed their main negotiators and appear to know what they want from the talks, the Obama administration has yet to make progress on both fronts.

The tone during Friday’s dinner was “very different” from meetings Mrs. Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, had with Mr. Lavrov, said U.S. officials who took part in sessions with both secretaries.

Mr. Lavrov sought to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran’s interest in buying Russian S-300 air defense systems, which could help repel possible Israeli or U.S. air strikes.

“These issues… are decided exclusively within the law and Russian national regulations,” Mr. Lavrov said. “We are supplying non-destabilizing defensive weapons.”

He also disagreed with Mrs. Clinton on Kosovo, repeating Russia’s position that the former Serbian province’s independence declaration a year ago was illegal and sets a dangerous precedent.

Earlier Friday, Mrs. Clinton, who wraps up a trip to the Middle East and Europe this weekend, said that the Obama administration is “testing the waters” through its overtures to problematic foreign countries, such as Iran, Syria and Russia, to see “what is possible” in improving ties.

“We have a sense of urgency in the Obama administration. We believe that there are a lot of challenges and threats that we have inherited that we have to address, but there are lots of opportunities,” she said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“We are being extremely vigorous in our outreach, because we are testing the waters. We are determining what is possible. We are turning new pages and resetting buttons and doing all kinds of efforts to create more partners and fewer adversaries,” she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide