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13 Oct, 2009 07:15

Clinton in Moscow to talk missile defense, nuke reduction and Iran

Russia and the US are set to thrash out a new deal on nuclear arms cuts and discuss missile defense as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to sit down for talks with President Medvedev.

Clinton is also in Moscow to look for Russia's help in taking a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program.

The official part of Clinton’s first visit to Russia as US Secretary of State begins on Tuesday morning with talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In the afternoon she will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The visit “will become an important stage in enhancing Russian-American interaction within the framework of future-oriented tasks set by the presidents of the two countries during their summit in Moscow in July,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko.

Clinton’s search for Iran sanctions support

The Iranian nuclear problem is high on the agenda of Clinton’s visit. In September, Tehran informed the UN nuclear watchdog that it has a second uranium enrichment facility near the town of Qom, causing further concerns from the international community over the country’s controversial program.

News agency Interfax, citing official US sources, reports that the US Secretary of State intends to seek Russian backing for imposing new sanctions against Iran if the Islamic republic fails to prove its nuclear program is pursuing peaceful purposes only – something Tehran has been insisting on.

The US, France and the UK have strongly condemned Tehran’s action and have demanded that they immediately cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

At the latest talks on the issue in Geneva this month, Iran did show its willingness to compromise that some of its uranium could be enriched in other parts of the world and then returned to Iran, though nothing concrete has come out so far.

During her five-day tour in Europe, Hillary said that the world would not wait indefinitely for Iran to prove its peaceful intentions. This is why Clinton seeks to have Moscow back up the hard rhetoric coming from Washington.

The White House has said that sanctions would follow if Iran did not meet its promises and allow IAEA observers into its facilities. President Medvedev noted that sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases they are inevitable.

“The progress on the Iranian nuclear programme is not easy because the interests of Russia and the US do not coincide completely,” noted Evgeny Volk from the Heritage Foundation US think tank’s Moscow office. “Russia is engaged in high level cooperation with Iran’s civilian nuclear programme: constructing the nuclear plant in Bushehr and helping Iran to develop nuclear technologies. Of course, Russia is more interesting in preserving some cooperation with Iran. That is why for many years Moscow was reluctant to take tough sanctions against Tehran.

Missile defense: from foes to friends?

Anti-missile defense will also be on the agenda. It had been a stumbling block in relations between Russia and the US ever since the Bush administration announced plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Moscow was strongly opposed to it, seeing it as a threat to Russia’s security.

However, President Obama recently announced that the US would drop plans to deploy parts of its missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, which is seen as a huge step towards better cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

Earlier this month, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, in an interview with a Russian news agency, said the US is considering jointly using two Russian radars– one in Armavir in southern Russia and another in the Azerbaijani city of Gabala – as part of its anti-missile system. The idea was first put forward by Vladimir Putin in 2007.

“For the first time in two decades, Russia, the U.S., and NATO have a chance to become allies, more than allies, in fact – if they agree to build a joint defense system,” said Aleksandr Sharavin from the Institute for Political and Military Analysis. “I think cooperation in the missile shield is more important than Afghanistan.”

Further, Sharavin believes “We can’t miss this chance because it could bring commercial benefits”. He said Russian companies working for the defense industry would be able to receive orders from across Europe “to build S-300, S-400 and, in the future, S-500 units [long range surface-to-air missile systems]”.

“By collaboration in such a sensitive area, we can overcome the stereotypes of the Cold War,he added.

Politics aside, on Tuesday evening Hillary Clinton will watch “The Love of Three Oranges” – an opera by Sergey Prokofiev – at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

On Wednesday, the US Secretary of State will speak on the Ekho Moskvy radio station and meet Moscow State University students.

Before flying home, she will also visit Kazan – the capital city of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan – where Clinton will meet with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev.