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Russia and US see chance for better ties


Latest update : 2008-03-17

Russia and the United States sounded upbeat Monday about easing tensions as visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the positive tone of talks with Putin.

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - Even before she landed in
Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking
about Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev as someone she
thought she could do business with.

With U.S.-Russia relations at a low, the Bush administration
is looking anxiously at Medvedev, who takes over as president in
May while outgoing President Vladimir Putin is expected to
become his prime minister.

Both Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said
during talks with the incoming and outgoing presidents how
important it was to get U.S.-Russia ties on a better footing.

"We want to lay a good foundation for U.S.-Russia relations
going into the future despite our differences," said Rice, who
warmly greeted Medvedev and congratulated him on his win in this
month's presidential election.

The two major powers, while working together on issues such
as Iran and North Korea, have disagreed strongly over a
U.S.-proposed missile defence system in Europe, Kosovo's
independence and a range of other security issues.

The United States has also criticised what it says is an
erosion of civil liberties, press freedoms and democratic norms
under Putin.

"The possibilities are there for change," Rice told
reporters of Medvedev, shortly before landing in Moscow.

Experts say U.S.-Russia relations have been adrift, with the
United States bogged down in Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan
and other areas.

"Russia has figured pretty far down the scale and that has
had consequences," said Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington

A former Soviet expert, Rice said she had met Medvedev
"probably six or seven times" before and came away impressed
from the Kremlin meeting where he hosted Rice and Gates along
with the Russian defence and foreign ministers.

"He was very much on top of the brief. We were able to talk
about some of the opportunities that we faced," said Rice.

Gates, a former Soviet expert at the CIA, said his encounter
with Medvedev was in sharp contrast with a meeting in the 1970s
with former Cold War Russian President Leonid Brezhnev when a
treaty was signed between the United States and Russia freezing
certain weapons systems.

"I found Medvedev thoughtful, articulate. As Condi said, he
was clearly on top of his brief -- foreign policy and national
security issues have not been his thing before -- but he
discussed them very, very well, this afternoon. I was
impressed," said Gates at a joint news conference with Rice.

Asked how he found Brezhnev, Gates replied: "You don't want
to go there  ... That's when I knew we would win (the Cold

Medvedev also sounded a conciliatory note in his first talks
with the Americans, by saying there was a common will to solve
problems between Moscow and Washington.

"We must create the basis for the continuity of Russian-
American relations in the future. We have everything we need to
achieve that," Medvedev added.

The Moscow meetings come as the Bush administration is in
its final months ahead of the November U.S. election to choose a
new president who takes office in January.

One U.S. official said the key was to try and get as much
done before then and the Russians knew this to be the case.

Date created : 2008-03-17