Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday the two governments will not let differences over Georgia and other regional issues get in the way of efforts to reach a new strategic arms control deal. The two countries begin negotiations May 18 on an agreement to replace the 1991 START-I strategic arms treaty, which expires at years-end.
Despite better atmospherics in their relationship since the start of the Obama administration, the two sides have not resolved differences over Georgia, European missile defense and ways to prompt Iran to end uranium enrichment.
But both Clinton and Lavrov, in comments after their second full-scale meeting since March, say the problems will not hamper broader cooperation between the two powers including their effort to put further curbs on the world's largest nuclear arsenals.
Clinton said it is "old thinking" to argue that because Washington and Moscow differ on some regional issues, including Georgia, they should not try to address matters of "overwhelming importance" like arms control. The Russian foreign minister, heard through an interpreter, readily agreed.
"The task of further reductions of strategic offensive weapons is too important, both for Russia and the United States, and for the entire world in fact, to make it hostage of any particular regime anywhere around the globe. As far as the situation in the Caucasus, especially in the South Caucasus, we have discussed it today. True, we do have obvious differences. We do not conceal those. But we agree on one thing: we need to do our best in order to achieve stability there," he said.
Senior U.S. and Russian negotiators are to convene in Moscow May 18th to begin arms control talks with the aim of having at least the outlines of a deal when President Obama meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian capital in July.
The two presidents met for the first time on the sidelines of the G-20 economic conference in London in early April and set in motion what Clinton says is an effort to raise the frequently contentious U.S.-Russian relationship to a higher level.
"Our leadership in the area of arms control and non-proliferation is of such profound global concern that that is at the top of the list. But there are so many other important matters that we are dealing with. And one of the areas we discussed today is how we're going to suggest to our presidents, for their summit, a way forward. Because I couldn't agree more with what Sergei said. We want to normalize the relationship and raise it to a new level," she said.
On the Iran nuclear issue, Lavrov said while Moscow opposes harsh additional U.N. sanctions against Tehran, it does support, and is applying, "robust" political pressure to get Iran to return to negotiations with the major powers on its enrichment program.
Lavrov briefed Clinton on his visit to North Korea late last month, which was the first by a major-power diplomat since Pyongyang announced it was quitting Chinese-brokered negotiations on its nuclear program.
Under questioning, Clinton said she had no plans for a Pyongyang visit herself but noted that U.S. envoy for North Korean Stephen Bosworth has been dispatched to Asia and Russia to discuss the situation.
She said she and Lavrov agreed on the need to get North Korea back to the six-party talks but said the other participating countries "may have to show some patience" before that is achieved.