Berlusconi pursues Russia-US presidential talks

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (pictured) will try to arrange a meeting between US President-elect Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. US-Russia relations have chilled since Moscow's conflict with Georgia last August.


AFP - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday he had begun working on a meeting between US president-elect Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"We have started to work... on a possible meeting," Berlusconi told reporters ahead of his country taking over the rotating presidency of the G8 on January 1.

Relations between Washington and Moscow plunged to their worst state since the Cold War in August when the United States slammed Russia's war with Georgia over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

The departing administration of President George W. Bush has also angered Russia over its plans to install a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, which Moscow sees as a hostile move.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, has yet to say whether he intends to continue the plan.

For his part, Berlusconi said he hoped to establish as good a relationship with Obama as he had had with the outgoing US president.

"I had a very good rapport with George W. Bush, I hope that I will have as good a rapport with Barack Obama," he said.

Berlusconi added that he had spoken to the president-elect on the telephone and believed there would be no obstacles to maintaining good relations between the two countries.

Since his return to power last May, Berlusconi has repeatedly expressed his wish to draw on his strong links with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in order to play the role of intermediary between Washington and Moscow.

Following Obama's election in November, the gaffe-prone Berlusconi praised the African-American politician as young, beautiful and "tanned" when asked how he might get along with his Russian counterpart Medvedev.

Supporters acknowledged Berlusconi's tendency to embarrassing blunders but said the remarks had been well-intentioned.

Italy is due to host a 14-state summit in March to discuss the "human dimension" of the world financial crisis.

The meeting will bring together leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, as well as those of six emerging nations.

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