In Moscow, Rice signals warmer US-Russia ties
High-level talks on contentious issues such as missile defense had a markedly different tone from past rhetoric.
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After two days of talks with Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dmitri Medvedev, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told journalists it was looking likely that Mr. Putin and President Bush will "realize their strategic vision" when they meet on the sidelines of a NATO summit two weeks from now in Bucharest, Romania.
"We have agreed that there should be a joint strategic framework document for the presidents to be able to record all of the elements of the US-Russia relationship as we go forward into the future," Ms. Rice said.
The idea of a wide "strategic framework" between the two outgoing leaders was suggested by Mr. Bush in a letter to Putin early this week that talked about the presidents' legacies.
"It is a serious document, and we analyzed it carefully," Putin said Monday.
Rice suggested that cooperation against nuclear terrorism and efforts to provide peaceful atomic energy to all nations could be part of the package. But without progress on some of the key issues that still divide Russia and the US, such a deal might be distinctly hollow.
First among these is the US determination to station 10 antimissile interceptors in Poland, with an associated radar system in the Czech Republic, which Moscow regards as a direct threat to its own strategic nuclear deterrent.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that no agreement had been reached during the two-day visit, but "the US has heard our concerns ... and we have been offered quite important and useful proposals which we will consider."
Agreeing to disagree – for now
"This is not the son of strategic defense initiatives of the '80s, but rather aimed at a completely different threat where you are talking about small threats – small numbers of troublesome states ... some of which are on the periphery of Russia," Rice told journalists in Moscow.
Addressing Russia's objections to the missile defense plan would nevertheless require sweeping compromises from Washington, experts say.
Missile defense: The US is closing in on agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host part of a missile defense system. Russia says the proposed installations in neighboring states constitute a threat to its security. The Bush administration says the system is intended to guard against rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea.
NATO expansion: As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization considers membership of three additional states at an upcoming summit April 2-4. Russia is increasingly agitated about NATO expansion.
START treaty: Russia is anxious to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which runs out in 2009, in order to guard against what it claims is a growing inequity in spending on nuclear weapons.
Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE): Russia suspended its obligations to the 1990 arms control treaty in November 2007, enabling them to keep troops in Georgia and Moldova.
Sources: Agence France-Presse, International Herald Tribune, Associated Press, and Reuters