Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Washington and met wih his US counterpart Hillary Clinton.

Russia and the United States will begin new talks later this week in an effort to replace the START I treaty expiring in December. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed this subject and other key issues of bilateral relations and international politics with US State Secretary Hillary Clinton on his first visit to Washington after installation of the new US Administration. Lavrov said afterwards that Moscow had made a new ABM offer to Washington and turned down Barack Obama’s idea to link the ABM talks and joint US-Russian actions with regard to Iran.

The subject that everyone expects will display the ability of Moscow and Washington to interact and cooperate appeared on the Russian-American agenda with the so called “rebooting” of the bilateral relations. The matter concerns a new treaty that will replace the expiring START one. The treaty expires this December and Russia does not intend to extend it. In other words, Moscow and Washington have until December to draw and sign a new document. When they met in London on April 1, presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Obama pledged to beat this deadline and have a new treaty worked out and adopted.

As a matter of fact, sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry and US Department of State were somewhat skeptical recently that the treaty would be signed on time. Off the record, Russian representatives pin the blame on the Americans who they say take suspiciously long to formulate their position at the talks. Indeed, they promise the Russian Foreign Ministry the latest US offers concerning the matter only by June. The Americans in their turn claim that the Russians thwart all their efforts to establish normal working contacts. As matters stand, contacts were only established between the US Department of State and the Russian Foreign Ministry. No negotiations are under way between the Pentagon and the Defense Ministry in Moscow. US representatives complain off the record that there are practically no specialists in the Russian Defense Ministry competent enough to discuss disarmament issues.

In a word, all speculations on inevitability of the new treaty notwithstanding, not even official consultations have been launched so far. Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the first round of the talks was scheduled to begin in Moscow on May 17. Only preliminary consultations have taken place to date.

Since Russia and the United States officially agree with each other on the issue, Lavrov and Clinton barely mentioned it at the press conference that followed their meeting in Washington. Clinton acknowledged existence of serious discord over Georgia but hastened to add that it did not impair joint work on other issues. Lavrov merely stated that Obama’s Administration was still revising its policy with regard to ABM. He added that Russia had made a new offer to Washington recently, one that developed Vladimir Putin’s initiative aired in Kennebankport (a joint Russian-American ballistic missile defense system incorporating objects in Armavir and Gabala).

Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak assured Kommersant that the new offer jibed with the already known Russian position. “The US Administration is revising its policy these days, so that there is no point for Russia to change its mind,” Ryabkov added. According to the official, the whole idea is centered around the premise that Moscow and Washington ought to pool efforts to make sure that no missile threat will originate anywhere in the foreseeable future. It is only if and when they become convinced that avoiding this threat is impossible that Russia and the United States should prepare themselves for dealing with it. The ABM framework should therefore be global, developed along the lines other than the ones focus is made on nowadays. Ryabkov added that the use of the Kaliningrad enclave instead of Poland as a site for ABM framework objects was out of the question.

Moscow in the meantime turned down Obama’s idea to link the ABM issue with the Iranian nuclear program. Obama had written in his letter to Medvedev this March that the problem of ABM in East Europe would be automatically removed off the agenda with discovery of a solution to the Iranian problem, implying that Russia should combine efforts with the United States in this particular matter. Addressing US political scientists in Washington, Lavrov plainly stated that Russia was regarding ABM and Iran as two absolutely different issues. Whatever American politicians might be saying about how these two problems are inseparable, Russia regards the ABM system as a threat to its own security, he said.

Tobi Gati, once a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council who was responsible for Russia, asked Lavrov what errors of its own Russia was prepared to recognize within the framework of the “rebooting”. “I’ve never thought about it,” Lavrov replied and added that it was only in retirement, if ever, that he might give it a thought.