Munich: Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov welcomed on Sunday signals from Washington that it wants a fresh start in relations with Moscow, a day after Vice President Joe Biden heralded a “new tone” in US foreign policy.
Speaking before one-to-one talks with Biden at a security conference in Munich — the highest level meeting since President Barack Obama took office on 20 January — Sergei Ivanov said the latest signals were “very positive”.
Speaking on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, Biden set out Obama’s foreign policy vision, saying Washington wants to turn over a new leaf with Moscow.
Crucially, the vice president said the US would press ahead with its missile defence shield project, but only “provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective”.
“We will do so in consultation with you, our NATO allies, and with Russia,” he said. “It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together.”
Asked on Sunday which aspect of Biden’s speech he thought was “very positive,” Ivanov told reporters in English: “Restarting the button.”
Under Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, relations between the White House and the Kremlin hit lows unseen since the Cold War.
Moscow was angered by Washington’s intention to base radars and interceptor rockets in Czech Republic and Poland, which Bush said would detect and shoot down incoming missiles from “rogue states” such as Iran.
Russia strongly objected to having such installations so close to its borders and feared that it was slowly being encircled by the West — a fear stoked by the prospect of Georgia and Ukraine joining Nato.
Russia’s short war in August with Georgia, and its subsequent recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also rankled Washington.
The West has meanwhile grown critical of what it sees as growing authoritarianism and human rights violations under Vladimir Putin, its all-powerful president turned prime minister.
Biden also signaled Saturday the Obama’s team is ready to consider Russian demands in negotiations — stalled under Bush — to renew START, the Cold War-era nuclear disarmament treaty that expires in December.
Russia’s Nato envoy Dmitry Rogozin said Biden’s speech “contained many hints and associations from which one can conclude that it is possible to expect some new accents in US foreign policy on the irritants in Russian-US relations, including missile defence.”
The Munich security conference includes power brokers from around the world focusing on hot-button security issues for the 21st century.
Other big guns from Washington attending the conference are national security advisor James Jones, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and General David Petraeus, US commander in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jones and Petraeus joined panel discussions Sunday on Afghanistan, where Obama is sending 30,000 extra troops while calling upon allies do do more to snuff out a Taliban insurgency.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the Munich conference to call for reconciliation with the Taliban, and urged foreign forces in his country to do more to halt civilian casualties.