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Clinton Two-Day Moscow Visit to Include Mideast Talks

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Moscow working toward a new strategic arms agreement with Russia.  The secretary's two-day agenda includes a multilateral meeting Friday with Russian, European Union and United Nations officials to discuss Middle East peace efforts.

Secretary Clinton will be meeting her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Thursday and President Dmitri Medvedev on Friday.  The bilateral meetings are focusing on a replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December.  President Barack Obama and Mr. Medvedev pledged last year to cut the number of American and Russian nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675.   However, renegotiating a new treaty has proven more difficult than expected.  The head of the New Eurasia Foundation research group in Moscow, Andrei Kortunov, explains.

"There are issues related to verification, for example, maybe there are disagreements over specific numbers, and definitely, there is a logic which is related to American ABM [missile defense] systems," he said.

Those systems are part of an American plan to build a long-range missile defense system in Europe.  The issue is back on the table following an announcement that Romania would host elements of a new system, after the Obama Administration scrapped a similar plan for Poland.  The United States says a missile shield is needed to protect Europe against a possible attack by Iran.  The Kremlin fears it would be used to threaten Russia.

Clinton holds talks Friday with the so-called Quartet group of peacemakers.  Russia will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the European Union by Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, the United Nations by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the United States by Secretary Clinton.  The Quartet's Special Representative, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will also attend. Their formal talks will be preceded by a dinner Thursday evening.

The Quartet is mediating an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.  That effort has been stalled, most recently, because of an Israeli plan to build 1,600 housing units for Jews in mostly Arab East Jerusalem.  Clinton has called the Israeli plan insulting and scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the issue in an angry telephone conversation, last Friday.  The Israeli leader later praised President Obama's commitment to Israel's security.  

Analyst Yevgeniy Satanovsky, president of Moscow's Middle East-Israeli Institute, is skeptical that the Quartet will accomplish anything more than what he says are "talks about talks."  He says the reason is that Israel has invested too much in settlements to back off.

Satanovsky says there are Israelis who have spend decades and billions of dollars on settlements, and generations of politicians and analysts built their careers around the issue.  He says such people will not accept that their efforts came to a dead-end and that they were mistaken.

Iran's nuclear program is also expected to be reviewed by Clinton and Lavrov. Before heading for Russia, U.S. Undersecretary of State and former Ambassador to Russia William Burns said " it's time to demonstrate that there are consequences" to Tehran's continued defiance of international concerns about its nuclear program.  Earlier this month, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said his country is ready to consider new sanctions against Iran, if persuasion fails to stop it from enriching uranium.

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