March 7, 2009 / 4:04 AM / 8 years ago

Clinton and Lavrov hail new U.S.-Russia approach

By Sue Pleming

GENEVA, March 7 (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed as wonderful his relationship with Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Secretary of State praised a new start in U.S.-Russian ties after their first one-on-one meeting.

They also saw the funny side over a language error when Clinton presented Lavrov with a box containing a red "reset button" as a symbol of better relations, which had sunk to their worst since the Cold War under George W. Bush's presidency.

The button was marked "Peregruzka" and Clinton joked to Lavrov: "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?"

"You got it wrong," said Lavrov, smiling as they pushed the reset button together before dinner at a Geneva hotel on Friday.

He told Clinton "Peregruzka" meant "overcharge", to which Clinton replied: "We won't let you do that to us."

The meeting did not produce major announcements but U.S. officials said they hoped the positive tone would carry through when President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet later this month.

Clinton was cautiously upbeat, saying there needed to be trust and more predictability to the relationship.

"It was, Sergei, a good beginning," Clinton said at her first joint news conference with Lavrov, where the two looked relaxed in comparison to often tense public appearances when Clinton's predecessor Condoleezza Rice was in office.

"I hope Hillary will agree with me, I venture to say, we have a wonderful personal relationship," said Lavrov.

In the past few years, the U.S.-Russian relationship had focused more on differences than areas of cooperation, with disputes ranging from a proposed U.S. missile shield to Moscow's invasion of Georgia and human rights concerns.



"GOOD ATMOSPHERICS"

A senior U.S. official described "good atmospherics" over the dinner of vegetable soup, grilled fish and chocolate dessert, and said Clinton and Lavrov sought areas where they could work together.

Differences were obvious -- from Kosovo's independence, which Lavrov called illegal, to Georgia and strong concerns over Russia's plans to sell missile technology to Iran.

One result was a decision to launch a plan to renegotiate the START strategic arms treaty, which is aimed at reducing nuclear weapons, by the end of the year.

There were also hints of a compromise brewing on a U.S.-proposed missile defence system in Europe that Washington says is designed to protect Europe and its allies from any threat from Iran.

Moscow wants to see what the United States will do with the previous Bush administration's plans to station systems in NATO allies Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia says this threatens its security.

The senior U.S. official, who declined to be named, said the United States wanted to have serious discussions with Russia on the issue and had made this clear to Lavrov.

"One of the things we looked at is how we might use the assets that each of us have, while working with our European partners," said the official, indicating there might be some new proposals in the offing.

The Obama administration has increasingly pointed out to Russia that if the threat from Iran can be eliminated then the need for the missile shield could diminish.

U.S. officials, some of whom were around when Bush was president, said they noticed a marked change in Lavrov's tone at the Geneva meeting and that he appeared more relaxed.

At one point in the news conference, he joked there was one agreement they had reached and that was over how "resetting" the new relationship should sound in both Russian and English. (Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by Ralph Gowling)

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