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8 Feb, 2009 16:21

Can Washington and Moscow start afresh?

The U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said Washington wants to hit “the reset button” over ties with Moscow.

Russia has welcomed the words, but Deputy PM Sergey Ivanov has warned against over optimism, saying previous “thaws” had ended in disappointment.

Biden spelled out his country's new direction in his first major foreign policy speech at an international security forum in Munich.

Ivanov and Biden held private talks at the conference. Speaking to the media after the closed-door session, Ivanov said:

“The U.S. administration is sending very strong signals – and we do hear them – signals that they are ready to resume dialogue between Russia and the U.S., frankly and honestly, on all issues of mutual interest. It does not mean that we will agree on each and every issue, and that's clear to both parties.

But can the new rhetoric really be called a thaw in the relations between Russia and the West?

“From my previous experience – I’m 56 already – I saw a lot of thaws, I saw a lot of good intentions, which ended nowhere. I hope this time it won’t be the case,” Sergey Ivanov told RT.

There had already been reports that the U.S. wants new talks on the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, from which the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew. Obama had reportedly sent Henry Kissinger to Moscow last December to lay the groundwork for a bi-lateral deal.

We are ready to start negotiations on strategic arms limitations as quickly as possible,” Ivanov said.

Joe Biden confirmed the U.S. wants to renegotiate and hinted at movement on U.S. plans to deploy a missile defence shield in Europe. However, his statement fell short of shedding hard light on what exactly the White House has in mind.

“We will continue to develop missile defense to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost-effective. We will do so in consultation with you, our NATO allies, and with Russia,” he said.

Relations between Moscow and NATO have become increasingly tense in recent years. Russia strongly opposes the alliance’s expansion eastwards as well as U.S. proposals for a defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Referring to last year’s conflict in the Caucasus, where Washington accused Russia of a disproportionate use of force in response to Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, Biden said the US would “not agree with Russia on everything”. He said the new administration in Washington would not recognize Georgia’s two breakaway regions as independent states – a move already completed by Russia.

“But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide. And they coincide in many places,” Biden said.

Our Russian colleagues long ago warned about the rising threat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, NATO and Russia can, and should, cooperate to defeat this common enemy,” he said.

He went on to say that: “The United States rejects the notion that NATO's gain is Russia's loss, or that Russia's strength is NATO's weakness. The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our alliance. It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia”.

The 45th annual security conference in Munich had more big-name delegates than ever before, and they were looking at ways to reform European security. The question, however, was – with or without Russia.