President Barack Obama will meet with Vladimir Putin shortly after the Russian president-elect's inauguration in May, it was announced Thursday.
While the two insist that U.S.-Russian relations are strong, sticking points remain, such as Washington's plan to build a missile defense system in Europe.
Each of the sides understands its interests and is determined to defend them, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in announcing the presidential meeting. Fortunately, this does not lead to conflict, because there are no major disagreements between Russia and the United States. The disagreements that exist are limited to concrete problems and can be sorted out through a bilateral dialogue.
Putin has previously said he would boycott the Group of Eight summit at Camp David and the NATO conference in Chicago this spring if the missile defense plans weren't scrapped, but Lavrov said Moscow is still optimistic the dispute can be settled swiftly, the the Voice of Russia reported.
The issue of Syria will also be on the table when the presidents meet in May.
Russia, which along with China has twice blocked the United Nations Security Council from adopting a resolution to condemn Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, has recently relaxed its stance. On Wednesday, Russian and China endoresed a Security Council statement calling on Syria to accept a peace plan crafted by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and warning of further steps if Syria failed to respond.
But the United States and its Western allies still want Russia to pass stricter sanctions against Assad's government.
We are not justifying the Syrian government, it really was wrong to react to peaceful protests the way it did, and some measures were taken too late, thus flaring up the conflict, Lavrov said Wednesday of his government's stance. But if we have principles, if we care about civilians, we should also condemn those who have long been staging provocations in Syria.
Russia is aslo aware that with the U.S. presidential election approaching, Obama might not wish to attend diplomatic summits after November. The purpose of the May summit is to strengthen relations with Russia regardless of who is in the White House, Lavrov said.
Republican candidates have been actively using anti-Russian rhetoric in their campaign speeches. But we will judge the new U.S. leader`s policy toward Russia by his deeds, not by the rhetoric we hear now, the minister said.
Obama was criticized in some circles for waiting five days to congratulate Putin after the Russian prime minister's presidential election victory in early March. Obama's administration attributed the delay to the busy schedules of the two.