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19 Mar, 2010 14:03

Moscow-Washington: reloaded

The Russian-US relations reset has become a reality, said Russia’s Foreign Minister after the meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow.

According to Sergey Lavrov, Friday’s meeting proved that relations between Moscow and Washington “are on the rise” and have achieved “new dynamics.” Citing president Medvedev, the Russian top diplomat said that within the last year the two states “succeeded in putting into effect a real reset, stopped the degrading in our relations that we had witnessed before the Obama administration came to power, and provided for unprecedented intensity of contacts at all levels of executive power.”

The US Secretary of State agreed with the statement, dubbing the reset “a success.”

Hillary Clinton arrived in Moscow on Thursday to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister, the President, and to take part in the session of the Middle East Quartet comprised of the UN, the EU, Russia and the US. Following the crucial meeting of the mediators seeking a solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian standoff, Clinton met with Medvedev in his Barvikha residence outside the capital.

The meeting – which was also attended by a bunch of top level diplomats from both states – took place behind closed doors. Following the talks, Clinton and Lavrov gave a media conference.

Discussing his personal impressions of the meeting, the Russian foreign minister echoed Medvedev’s opinion over the successful reset in Russian-American relations and added that “we should not stop at this point, and continue moving forwards.”

Lavrov described the current visit of the US Secretary of State with a metaphor, saying it was like an “in-flight refueling.”

New START to be finished soon

Among topics that have lately been in the spotlight, special attention was drawn to such burning issues as sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, and Russian-US negotiations over a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that have been going on for quite a while now with no exact signing date set so far.

However, it seems that finally there is light at the end of the tunnel and a new agreement will be signed soon. The negotiators are currently meeting in Geneva, discussing the final details.

The Russian president “highlighted specifically that he is very satisfied with the way Geneva negotiators complied with orders formulated for them by presidents Obama and Medvedev and said that he hopes that in short they will be able to complete the negotiations,” Lavrov said Friday.

As for when and where the long awaited treaty will be signed, both officials remained silent.

Sanctions on Iran not ruled out, but they should be “smart”

Tehran has long been causing concerns for the international community over its controversial nuke program. Since Russia and the US are permanent members of the UN Security Council, it was not surprising that the issue popped up during the Medvedev-Clinton talks.

Lavrov said that sanctions against the Islamic republic cannot be ruled out, but those sanctions must be “smart”. The Foreign Minister repeated President Medvedev’s earlier statement that sanctions can rarely be effective.

“But there can be situations in which they are inevitable, and we do not rule out that such a situation may emerge in relations with Iran,” Lavrov said.

“Sanctions must be smart, not paralyzing and not harmful to the Iranian population,” he said. “They must be addressed to those who make decisions in favor of cooperation with the international community.”

“We confirmed the readiness to go ahead with cooperation on the basis of this approach,” Lavrov added.

Commenting on the problem, Clinton said, “We are now at the stage where we are asking for action and are working very hard in the Security Council to obtain a resolution expressing the international community’s disapproval of Iranian actions and pulling together the world in a regime of ‘smart sanctions’ – as President Medvedev has referred to them – that will try to change the behavior of the Iranian leadership.”

Experts’ opinion

Dmitry Suslov from the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy thinks America’s latest actions in the field of missile defense deployment have changed Russian-US relations.

Relations “are quite good if we compare them to the Bush era, but they are not that good if we compare that to the spirit that was there in July during the Medvedev-Obama summit,” he said. “Since then we have stagnation, we have had new contradictions, such as the new missile defense.”

Samir Shakhbaz, political analyst, believes that it is quite possible that the US and Russia can compromise “behind closed doors.” Russia could help the US with Iran, and the US could scrap its missile defense in reply. However, he thinks that each country puts its own interests ahead of others.

“If, at this moment, AMD is too costly and ineffective for the US, they will be eager to scrap their plans,” he said, adding that if in the future, in the interests of security, the US AMD system is necessary, “they will bring this plan back on the table – any country will do the same thing.”

According to Sergey Lavrov, the sanctions against Iran should be “smart.” Andrey Kortunov, Vice President of the New Eurasia Foundation, explained that “idea is to have sanctions that would deprive Iran of certain military capabilities, certain technologies that can generate these military capabilities.”

“If relations really go sour there might be sanctions that will affect the Iranian political elite, but this is something that should not affect the population,” he added.