Road to Reset? Clinton and Lavrov map out goals

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) smiles as she meets Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 21st ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh  (Reuters/Samrang Pring)
Russian and American diplomats proposed a number of ways for getting the reset back on track in the first major Russia-US meeting since Barack Obama’s triumphant return to the White House.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to break the ice in the Russia-US relationship during talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.

By far the most contentious issue in the bilateral relationship involves US plans for building a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Moscow, which has been denied participation in the project, views the system as a direct threat to Russia’s national security. Now that the Democrats have emerged victorious against the Republicans, however, Moscow will be waiting for concrete proof that Obama will be “more flexible” on the issue.

Hillary Clinton, the outgoing Secretary of State, gave Russia some reason for optimism.

Clinton confirmed the US President’s commitment to finding “a compromise agreement on missile defense,” Lavrov told journalists following his meeting with Clinton in Cambodia on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, concerning the increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East, Lavrov stressed that the main objective is to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. Once that has been achieved, “a quartet of international mediators” can open peace negotiations.

“We’ve outlined the possibility (for a Quartet comprised of Russia, the US, UN and EU). As soon as the crisis in Gaza is settled – which is the most burning issue now – we will return to the topic,” the minister said.

Lavrov refrained from providing a time frame for negotiations, stressing that the “situation on the ground is not getting better.”

Last week, as part of its Operation Pillar of Defense, the Israeli military killed Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari while he was traveling in a car. Hamas issued a statement saying that Israel had “opened the gates of hell” with the attack.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military operation is in response to rockets being fired into southern Israel from Gaza. Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave have targeted some 1,350 sites throughout the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli military.

The Russians and Americans also discussed the protracted Syrian crisis, where a determined rebel opposition is attempting to oust Syrian President Assad.

Lavrov said Russia was committed to adhering to the terms of the Geneva Communique, while the Americans mentioned “ultimatums and deadlines”.

“We believe such an approach will not work,” he stressed.

Moscow, which is fiercely opposed to any outside interference in the conflict, has held talks with both the political opposition and pro-government officials. Russia’s strategy, which China supports, conflicts with that of the Obama administration, which has expressed its outspoken support for the opposition.

The two sides also discussed issues which are no less crucial to getting the Russia-US reset off life support.

Lavrov warned Clinton that Russia will “adequately respond” to the so-called Magnitsky Act, which last week passed the US House of Representatives. It must make it through a Senate vote and then be signed by President Barack Obama before it becomes law.

The bill is named after Sergey Magnitsky, who was being investigated for his role in a tax evasion scheme. He died after being held for almost a year in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow.

An investigation determined the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis, did not receive proper medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the perennial question of the American adoption of Russian children continues to be a nagging issue between.

Finally, Sergey Lavrov repeated the invitation for President Obama to visit Russia next year.

"I hope that such a visit will take place next year and we will be able to agree upon its date in the near future," the minister concluded.

Five years after Clinton and Obama pushed the symbolic button on the Russia-US reset in Moscow, Obama and President Putin will have an opportunity to recover the fumbled reset and start bilateral relations anew. At least we can hope.

Robert Bridge, RT