U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wrapped up talks in Brussels, where she attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. She is now Geneva for discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It seems the two sides have much to talk about.
Secretary Clinton was among those NATO ministers endorsing a resumption of high-level talks with the Russians, despite serious reservations expressed by some East European members.
In the end, those in favor won out and formal contacts within the Russia-NATO Council are to resume and a ministerial level meeting was announced as likely in the coming months.
Clinton tried to reassure those who remain wary of a dialogue with Russia, saying U.S. policy is clear.
"The United States will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence over any other nation," Clinton said. "I reiterated again in our meetings with Ukraine and Georgia, the United States' firm commitment to each of those nations moving toward NATO membership and our equally strong commitment to work with them along with NATO that they should not be the subject of Russian intimidation or aggression."
NATO's eastward expansion and the prospect of Georgia and Ukraine joining the Western alliance have angered Russia. Moscow's use of harsh military force against Georgia last August was widely seen as a warning against any further western encroachment into what Moscow considers its backyard.
Russia's quick recognition of independence claims by the Georgian breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and possible plans for Russian military bases there have in turn angered the West.
NATO officials say the differences with Moscow are many, but should be discussed openly.
Secretary Clinton said one of the issues on the table for her meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva is the contentious one of U.S. plans for a missile defense system, partly based in Eastern Europe.
"We've made the case to Russia time and again and I will make it once more in Geneva, that Europe has a right to defend itself from the new threats of the 21st Century," she said.
Moscow sees missile defense as being aimed at Russia; the U.S. says the system is meant to guard against attacks by terrorist networks or regimes such as Iran.
Iran's nuclear ambitions and the need for concerted international pressure to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons are also expected to come up.
"We will also raise with Russia their continuing discussions with Iran about selling longer-range missiles, which we think are a threat to Russia as well as to Europe and neighbors in the region," Clinton said.
Clinton said the offer for Russia to work with the U.S. on missile defense still stands.
But, Clinton also noted many areas of common ground between the United States and NATO and Russia, including cooperation on Afghanistan, working together to combat terrorism, narcotics trafficking and piracy.