Syria and prospects for US-Russia relations under a second Vladimir Putin presidency will top the agenda when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations in New York Monday.
The Obama administration is hoping for signs from Mr. Lavrov that Russia – which has already vetoed two Security Council resolutions in the past six months aimed at halting Syria’s deadly civil conflict – is open to considering a new draft resolution the US began circulating at the UN last week.
More broadly, Secretary Clinton will dip her toe into the recently agitated waters of Washington-Moscow relations to gauge the temperature for addressing issues of interest to both countries, ranging from missile defense and arms control to Afghanistan and Iran.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
President-elect Putin fired up campaign crowds with diatribes against the US and the West and what he called their meddling in Russia’s affairs. But officials say the US and other Western countries are hoping that with elections behind him, Putin will shift Russian foreign policy to a more cooperative stance.
Clinton did not exactly brim with enthusiasm last week in her comments on Putin’s landslide election victory March 4, but she did underscore that the US is ready to move beyond recent disputes to work on issues of common interest.
Putin’s triumph was marred by election irregularities and arrests of peaceful demonstrators, Clinton said, before adding, “But the election had a clear winner and we are ready to work with president-elect Putin as he is sworn in and assumes the responsibility of the presidency.”
She said the US would be “looking for ways to enhance cooperation on a range of difficult issues.”
That quest will start Monday, as Clinton presses Lavrov on getting a Security Council resolution passed on Syria. She said Friday she would speak with her Russian counterpart “about our hope that Russia will play a constructive role in ending the bloodshed and working toward a political transition in Syria.”
But other US officials were not overly hopeful Friday that Russia could be persuaded any time soon to either support or at the least only abstain in a full council vote on a new resolution. (Russia and China have twice vetoed Syria resolutions, in October and more recently in February).
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged that recent consultations with council members had not resulted in an “agreed text,” and added that she was not “overly optimistic” that an agreement could be reached “in the near future.”
Still, US officials hold out the possibility that two of Russia’s non-Western interlocutors – Arab states and China – might yet nudge Russia away from another “nyet” on Syria action.
Lavrov was to consult with Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo before continuing on to New York. And China, which sent a high-level delegation to Damascus last week to try to convince President Bashar al-Assad to open up Syria’s conflict-ravaged areas to humanitarian aid, has suggested it may be more favorably disposed now to a council resolution.
A sticking point for both Russia and China is likely to be that the US draft still speaks in favor of a political transition in Syria, a notion that to the Russians sounds all too much like an endorsement of regime change.
The US-authored text also calls for Syria’s violence – which some officials and experts claim has claimed 10,000 lives – to cease by first having government forces lay down arms, with rebel forces following suit. Russia says that is biased against the Assad regime and thus unacceptable.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria