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Panel Calls on US and Russia to Repair Strained Relations

A bipartisan commission of former U.S. senators and other leading foreign policy experts is calling on the Obama administration to reach out to Russia to improve strained relations. The panel describes bilateral ties as "deeply troubled," and calls on both countries to work together to deal with the global challenges they both face, including a potential nuclear threat from Iran.

The high-level panel, organized by the Nixon Center in Washington and Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and international Affairs, was headed by former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel.

The two men were part of a delegation that traveled to Russia last week and met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

The former senators stressed that their Kremlin meeting was very positive and productive. But Democrat Gary Hart said the reception he received from some Russian lawmakers and the feeling he picked up on the streets of Moscow was much cooler.

"I sensed personally more anti-Americanism on this trip than I did at any time during the Cold War, and it was dismaying," he said.

The panel concluded that both Moscow and Washington are to blame for the deterioration of diplomatic relations during the past year. Russia's war with Georgia and U.S. plans to install an anti-missile defense system in Eastern Europe have been two of the major causes of tensions.

Former Senator Hart said a long period of emphasizing differences instead of common goals and interests will take time to repair.

"There will not be a dramatic meeting of heads of state in Red Square, with hugs and kisses, exchange of flags, and all will be well," he said. "It takes a while to build up animosity; it takes a while to get rid of it, and I am convinced it will."

But Hart said he did believe public opinion in Russia would shift in favor of the United States when President Medvedev is expected to meet with President Barack Obama next month at an international economic summit in London.

After meeting with the former U.S. senators last week, Mr. Medvedev said there is every chance of opening a "new page" in U.S.-Russian relations.

Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said the United States has a strong national interest in working with Russia on a number of foreign policy issues, with Iran heading the list.

"Iran came up in all the issues - the seriousness of the Iranian nuclear threat, where they are on this, was very clear to the Russians," he said. "Again, I am not speaking for them. So this is a very significant issue, that I believe is going to require, just as we note in our first recommendation, both the United States and Russia working very closely together."

President Obama said recently that reducing the nuclear weapons threat posed by Iran would limit the need for a planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

The report on U.S.-Russia relations concludes that if Moscow and Washington succeed in building better ties, America could make significant foreign policy gains from Iran to Afghanistan and beyond.