MOSCOW – Russia hopes next week's visit by U.S. President Barack Obama will help restore confidence between the two biggest nuclear powers, a Kremlin aide said on Friday, after strains over Georgia and a U.S. missile shield plan.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have agreed to reset ties damaged under previous administrations. They have made joint work on a new nuclear arms cuts pact and cooperation on Afghanistan their starting points.
The two issues will top the agenda when Obama meets Medvedev for talks on Monday at the start of his July 6-8 visit to Moscow, chief Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko told a news briefing.
Prikhodko said rebuilding mutual trust was paramount. Recent disputes over U.S. anti-missile plans, NATO expansion in the former Soviet Union and Russia's 2008 war with U.S. ally Georgia have soured the mood between the two former Cold War foes.
Russia strongly opposes U.S. plans to station anti-missile batteries and radar detection systems in the Czech Republic and Poland to spot and shoot down hostile enemy rockets.
Without mutual trust in bilateral relations, we cannot deal with START or U.S. anti-missile system plans, Prikhodko said.
Apart from a memorandum on a replacement treaty for the 1991 START-1 pact expiring in December and a deal on the transit of U.S. military supplies to Afghanistan, Medvedev and Obama will sign several documents on sensitive areas of their relations.
Two main ones are an agreement to restore ties between the military, severed after the Georgia war, and a statement on cooperation in the civilian nuclear sector.
Last August Washington shelved an agreement giving Russia access to the lucrative U.S. nuclear energy market as part of its punitive action against Moscow for striking ex-Soviet Georgia and recognizing two of its rebel regions as states.
Obama has told Medvedev that Washington's criticism of Russia's action, launched to stop Georgia from retaking the breakaway province of South Ossetia, remained.
However the progress on new agreements with Russia suggests that Washington is prepared to move on.
Prikhodko said the two leaders could announce the recreation of a high-level government commission, created to handle trade ties and suspended by the George W. Bush administration. Medvedev and Obama will also meet U.S. and Russian businessmen.
ROOM FOR COMPROMISE
Negotiations between the two sides on reductions in their nuclear arsenal are still going on amid complications.
Russia wants cuts, possibly to 1,500 warheads for each side, to be linked to limits on national anti-missile systems and a ban on deploying non-nuclear warheads on strategic missiles, which Moscow views as destabilizing factors.
Russia wants these provisions to be included into the guidelines Medvedev and Obama will issue to negotiators after their Moscow summit, Prikhodko said. Washington has so far showed no signs of bowing to the Russian demand.
He made clear Moscow did not want to turn the disagreements into a stumbling block and expected both sides to compromise.
It would be an exaggeration to say that progress will be easy, Prikhodko said. The domestic agenda of both leaders and their agenda in dealings with allies do not always coincide.
The question is ... whether we want to expand mutual understanding or defend our own positions, he added. We feel the U.S. administration is inclined to follow the first scenario.
Russia has sent signals to Obama it was ready to cooperate on issues viewed as top priorities like Afghanistan.
During the visit, Russia and the United States will sign an agreement allowing lethal U.S. military cargoes to be delivered to Afghanistan through Russian territory, bypassing a more dangerous route via Pakistan.
Prikhodko also said Russia was cooperating with the United States on North Korea and Iran, two more issues to be discussed by Obama and Medvedev.
(Editing by Charles Dick)