US secretary of state Hillary Clinton talks after a Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.
Making her European debut as secretary of state, Clinton told a meeting of Nato foreign ministers that Washington wanted “a fresh start” in relations with Moscow. She will have her first official negotiations with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva tomorrow.
“I don’t think you punish Russia by stopping conversation with them,” she said, adding that there could be benefits to the better relationship. “We not only can but must co-operate with Russia.”
But she added: “We pursue it with our eyes wide open.”
The allies agreed that Russian and Nato defence and foreign ministers should resume meetings as soon as possible after Nato’s 60th birthday summit in France and Germany next month.
Diplomats said the accord and the talks in Geneva tomorrow could pave the way for the Obama administration to press ahead with a common agenda with Russia which would entail talks on nuclear arms control and on Russian co-operation with US policy on Afghanistan and Iran.
The new White House team are clearly hoping to bypass the prime minister and former president, Vladimir Putin, and focus its diplomacy on President Dmitry Medvedev.
For any big shifts in the Russian-American relationship, Moscow would insist on the shelving of the Pentagon’s missile shield project in Poland and the Czech Republic and a freeze in the prospects for Ukraine and Georgia joining Nato.
The US and Germany tabled a joint proposal for yesterday’s Nato meeting, leaving the contentious issue of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership chances open and urging greater co-operation with Russia “as equal partners in areas of common interest”. It went on: “These include: Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, counter-narcotics, non-proliferation, arms control and other issues.”
Despite the resumption of dialogue with Moscow, ministers stressed that western leaders would use the Nato-Russia vehicle to speak frankly.
“We want to engage with Russia, to state very clearly the areas where there are common interests and those areas of disagreement,” said the foreign secretary, David Miliband, whose speeches last year following the Georgia war were highly critical of Moscow.
“Russia is a global player. Not talking to them is not an option,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Nato secretary-general.
In the first big foreign policy speech from the Obama administration, in Munich last month, the vice-president, Joe Biden, said the White House wanted to “press the reset button” in relations with Moscow after years of dangerous drift.
Yesterday’s agreement represented a first step in the policy shift. The talks in Geneva will then prepare the ground for the first meeting between Obama and Medvedev in London at the beginning of next month.
The agreement today was held up for several hours by Lithuania, which strongly opposed the resumption of dialogue with the Kremlin.
France and Germany, keen to develop close links with Moscow, threatened in turn to cancel scheduled meetings last night between Nato and Ukraine and Georgia if “the opening with Russia” was not given a green light, diplomats said.
“We had a vigorous discussion on Russia,” said Clinton. “I thought it was absolutely invigorating.”
Clinton Assures Europe of Ties Before Mending inks With Russia
March 6 (Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure Europeans that U.S. overtures to Russia won’t weaken trans-Atlantic links, as she spoke in Brussels before heading to a meeting with her Russian counterpart.
“Our engagement with Russia in no way undermines our support for countries like Georgia or the Baltics or the Balkans or anywhere else in Europe,” Clinton told aspiring leaders in a town hall-style forum at the European Parliament today that was also Web cast to 31 countries. Those nations have a right “to be independent, free, make their own decisions and chart their own course without undue interference from Russia.”
The exchange was part of Clinton’s drive to connect U.S. diplomacy with the next generation and improve America’s image abroad during her first round of foreign visits. She’ll meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later today in Geneva, where she plans to pursue the Obama administration’s determination to solidify partnerships on key issues, even with occasional adversaries.
On this week’s swing through the Middle East and Europe, Clinton, 61, has met with young people or women’s groups at almost every stop.