OBAMA SEEKS A NEW APPROACH TO RUSSIA

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The Obama administration wants to repair relations with Russia

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has said that the United States should seek new ways of cooperating with Russia in a more constructive key. This is the first time that such a high-ranking official has spoken of the need to stop the confrontation with Moscow.


US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has said that the United States should seek new ways of cooperating with Russia in a more constructive key. This is the first time that such a high-ranking official has spoken of the need to stop the confrontation with Moscow. President Barack Obama’s new administration has admitted the obvious: the USA cannot solve its most acute problems – the Middle East and Afghanistan – unless it cooperates with Russia.

James Steinberg’s statement about seeking new approaches to Moscow was made on January 23, at US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on his nomination for deputy secretary of state. In Steinberg’s view, the most urgent issue in Russian-American relations is the need to sign a new strategic arms control treaty as soon as possible. Steinberg stressed that the United States needs to solve this problem very rapidly, noting that the current START I treaty, signed by the USA and the USSR in 1991, will expire in December 2009.

Nuclear weapons non-proliferation is just about the only foreign policy issue for which Obama has in-depth knowledge already. His sole visit to Russia, to date, concerned this issue: in 2005, Obama was part of a Congress delegation looking at the process of destroying Russia’s nuclear weapons (as required by START I). But analysts say that the United States also needs to sort out cooperation with Russia in other areas.

Josephine Osikena from the Foreign Policy Centre (London) told us: “The pragmatists have moved into the State Department along with Hillary Clinton. They understand that unless the USA cooperates with Russia, it can’t solve its two major foreign policy problems: Mideast regulation and preventing further destabilization in the region of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.”

Obama has stated already that he is prepared to negotiate directly with Iran; so far, he has made a point of refraining from any unequivocal comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The new administration might attempt to start dialogue with Hamas, trying to draw this organization into the field of lawful politics. Russia is the only country that could act as mediator in such talks.

The USA can’t get by without Russia’s assistance in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area either. As the situation in Pakistan escalates, delivering supplies to the US troops in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly risky. The only option for the USA is a northern transit route – a transport corridor via Russia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. The possibility of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan would threaten to export radical Islamism into Pakistan, destabilize all of South Asia, and (at worst) lead to a nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

Moscow understands that the USA is interested in dialogue, and is prepared to meet it half-way. President Dmitri Medvedev said on January 23 that Russia is prepared to cooperate with Washington on the Afghanistan issue – while emphasizing that partnership “should be full-scale and of equal value.”

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