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US hints success as Medvedev visits

The Obama administration is showcasing what it sees as one of its main foreign policy successes, warmer relations with Russia, as it welcomes President Dmitry Medvedev to the White House on Thursday.

world Updated: Jun 24, 2010 10:52 IST

The Obama administration is showcasing what it sees as one of its main foreign policy successes, warmer relations with Russia, as it welcomes President Dmitry Medvedev to the White House on Thursday.

Struggling with problems in Afghanistan, the Middle East and elsewhere, the Obama administration can point to signs that efforts to reset relations with Moscow have delivered tangible results. They cite Russia's support for sanctions against Iran and the signing of a major nuclear treaty.

Conservative critics, though, see Obama as too conciliatory to Russia, ignoring unresolved disputes over issues such as Moscow's human rights record, missile defense and Russian tensions with neighboring Georgia. They charge that by speaking softly on those issues, the United States is compromising its influence among Russia's neighboring countries.

"We are paying a huge price for the reset policy," says Ariel Cohen of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration says it has stood its ground on its disagreements with Russia but has shifted the tone of the relationship away from conflict.

Thursday's agenda is modest. The two leaders are looking to expand their countries' limited levels of trade: Russia has the world's eighth largest economy but ranks 25th among U.S. trading partners.

The meeting comes after Medvedev's daylong tour Wednesday of the Silicon Valley ended with a declaration of optimism that his country also would be able to adopt a high-tech economy that would give everyone a chance to succeed. Medvedev has said he wants to bring more high-tech innovation to Russia's oil-dependent economy, and create the country's own Silicon Valley outside Moscow.

The White House says the focus away from contentious security issues is a sign of a maturing relationship. The two leaders were expected to sign some joint statements on cooperation, but not to announce any major new developments.

"The true significance of Medvedev's visit is that it brings us closer to a relationship that doesn't require Cold War-style summits to sustain itself," says Sam Charap, a Russia analyst at the Center for American Progress. "The lack of headlines is actually a sign of progress."

The two leaders also are likely to discuss nuclear threats in Iran and North Korea, arms control and unrest in the former Soviet republic Kyrgyzstan, which both countries would like to see resolved.

Medvedev was to arrive at the White House Thursday morning for talks with Obama ahead of a news conference with him. Both will attend a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event to underscore ties among business leaders of their countries.

Ahead of a trip to Canada to attend a G-20 summit, Medvedev began his U.S. visit not in Washington but rather in California, a sign of his emphasis on economic innovation. The Russian president toured Silicon Valley high tech firms as part of his push to establish a similar high tech center in Russia.

Russia has been drawing closer to the Obama administration, first with the agreement to reduce the two countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons and then in helping to pass new U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Thursday's meeting will be the seventh between Obama and Medvedev since the U.S. president took office 17 months ago, and they have spent hours upon hours on the phone, negotiating details of security deals. Touchy bilateral disputes remain, though, from missile defense to the legacy of the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. Moscow recognizes the independence of rebel Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both governed by Russia-friendly separatists. The United States still considers the provinces sovereign Georgian territory.

First Published: Jun 24, 2010 10:47 IST