US State Secretary Hillary Clinton is coming to Moscow to discuss Iran, START I, and U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission. Moscow will want to discuss the American missile shield.

US State Secretary Hillary Clinton is coming to Moscow. Her negotiations with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to finally make it plain whether what is happening in the Russian-US relations is a genuine breakthrough. What information is available to Kommersant indicates that the positions of Moscow and Washington on the matter of Tehran, an issue of paramount importance for the United States, have never been so close yet. There exists in the meantime considerably less clarity on the matter of ballistic missile defense which Russia regards as a high priority.

This is going to be Clinton’s first visit to Moscow in the capacity of the US State Secretary. Philip J. Crawley, Assistant Secretary of State, said Friday that the talks in Moscow were to be centered around Iran, START I treaty expiring on December 5, and the U.S.- Russia Presidential Commission. In a word, Clinton is coming to Moscow to examine implementation of the key agreements presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama made at the July summit. She will meet with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Medvedev this Tuesday.

The relations between Moscow and Washington greatly improved after Obama’s visit to Russia this summer. Abandonment of the plans to install a radar in the Czech Republic and ten GBIs in Poland (and thus develop the third position area in Europe) did a world of good to the bilateral relations. Official Washington announced that it would rather develop a cheaper and more versatile system and, even more importantly, do so with the opinions of Russia and NATO partners taken into account. As though in response to it Medvedev allowed when addressing the UN General Assembly in New York that Moscow might back sanctions against Iran unless the latter compromised with the international community.

On the other hand, Russian leaders have never plainly stated that Moscow is prepared to vote sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. Sources in the US Department of State said Clinton was determined to get a firm confirmation from the Kremlin in the course of the visit.

The information available to Kommersant indicates that the decision on that score has been made, in principle. Moscow is prepared to back the sanctions and refrain from invoking its veto power if Iran keeps turning down offers made by the so called Six-Party Group (Russia, United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Germany). “We are ready for the sanctions unless considerable changes for the better take places in the foreseeable future,” to quote a source close to the Russian-American talks.

Visiting Moscow, Clinton will discuss (among other things) whether or not the Six-Party talks with Iran in Geneva on October 1 constitute “considerable changes”. Tehran then agreed to let IAEA inspectors visit the uranium-enrichment factory in Qom before October 25. It also agreed to ship low-grade uranium to Russia for enrichment. In other words, Tehran itself is not supposed to be able to enrich uranium to the weapons-grade quality. Also importantly, Iran agreed to another Six-Party talks round before the end of the month. Some experts therefore assume that Clinton’s interlocutors in Moscow will advise her to wait for the next round of the talks with Iran instead of threatening it with sanctions right away.

START I follow-on treaty is going to be another central item on Clinton’s agenda in Moscow. Meeting in Moscow this summer, Medvedev and Obama agreed to sign the new treaty before the end of the year. In the meantime, the presidents never reached an agreement on one of the key parameters of the future document, i.e. on the number of delivery means permitted signatories. The Joint Understanding they signed permits between 500 and 1,100 delivery means with Moscow insisting on the former and Washington on the latter. START I Treaty expires in less than two months, but Russian and American experts remain patently unable to come up with a mutually acceptable compromise. Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and her Russian opposite number Sergei Ryabkov will try to remedy that, later today.

The future of the American ballistic missile system in Europe is another item on the agenda. Barely had Obama made the announcement concerning the third position area in Europe and its configuration when official Washington followed them with new announcements that alarmed Moscow. “We intend to strengthen the European ABM rather than abolish it,” was how Robert Gates of the Pentagon put it.

Tension began mounting again last Friday when Alexander Vershbow, former US Ambassador to Russia assigned to the Pentagon, proclaimed Moscow’s initial enthusiasm already disappearing. “I suspect that euphoria is passing,” Vershbow said. According to the US functionary, it occurred to Russia officials that the new project of the American missile shield stipulated deployment of even larger numbers of US missiles and ships along the Russian borders. Lavrov said that same day that Moscow did expect some explanations from Clinton “to get a better understanding of the configuration they intend to replace the third position area with.” It seems that Moscow lacks the knowledge of exactly what the new American strategy comes down to.

Vershbow’s other words fomented a scandal right on the eve of Clinton’s visit. He insinuated that Ukraine might become one of the sites of the future ballistic missile defense system radars. According to The Defense News, Vershbow spoke of these plans before journalists and alleged that Ukrainian officials themselves had “displayed interest” in participation in the ballistic missile defense system.

According to spokesman for the Pentagon Sean Turner, Vershbow was misunderstood because he had only meant that countries of the region, Ukraine included, could have radars on heir territories that would be elements of the collective early warning system. Besides, the Pentagon reiterated interest in Russian radars in Armavir and Gabala (Azerbaijani) as elements of the future missile shield.

Russia would not be soothed. “Vershbow’s words were quite extravagant and absolutely unexpected,” Lavrov announced. “His statements raise more questions than offer answers.”

That Russia’s anxiety is mounting is also confirmed by its resolve to discuss with Clinton the American intention to deploy Patriot missiles in Poland as a recompense for abandonment of the previous plans. Moscow was saying only recently that these intentions were a matter of bilateral relations between Washington and Warsaw and did not concern Russia in the least.

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