(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will hold a summit with Russian leaders in Moscow next week seeking to “reset” relations that hit a post-Cold War low under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Following are the main issues and disputes affecting ties between Moscow and Washington:
STRATEGIC ARMS CONTROL
The Obama administration has made reaching a new nuclear arms control pact with Russia the cornerstone of its effort to improve relations between the two largest atomic powers.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in April to move quickly on negotiations to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-I), which expires in December.
The leaders are expected during their July 6-8 summit to announce progress and perhaps a framework for a new accord. It is expected to go beyond current arrangements that commit both sides to cutting their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece by 2012. U.S. arms control experts predict the new target could be as low as 1,500 warheads.
A final deal could be hampered by Russia’s bid to link the nuclear talks to its demands that Washington drop plans to develop an anti-missile shield in Europe. Russia sees the system as undermining its security. Washington says it aimed at intercepting missiles from hostile states such as Iran.
Russia’s war against Georgia last year caused the worst rift with the West since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Though strains have eased somewhat, Russia remains at odds with the United States and its allies over Moscow’s recognition of independence for Georgia’s two breakaway regions.
Russia, which has kept troops in the area after crushing Georgia’s bid to retake separatist South Ossetia, was angered by recent NATO war games in Georgia proper and has blocked renewal of an OSCE peace monitoring mission.
Washington insists the West will not accept a return to a Soviet-style “sphere of influence” on Russia’s borders.
Still, the United States and Russia have an interest in keeping lingering tensions over Georgia from spilling over into other areas of potential cooperation.
Russia fiercely opposed proposals -- spearheaded by the former Bush administration -- to bring ex-Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine into the NATO military alliance.
Both states are in a region where the Kremlin says it has “privileged interests” and wants to prevent further encroachment by Western powers.
NATO has said Georgia and Ukraine will join eventually but has declined to put them on an immediate path to membership.
Mindful that some other NATO allies are reluctant to see the issue antagonize Moscow, Obama has taken a more cautious approach than Bush to any future eastward expansion by NATO.
The Obama administration wants Russia’s help in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But Moscow, a key trading partner with Tehran, has often been reluctant to go along with sanctions pushed by the West, seeing them as counterproductive.
Obama can be expected to assure Russian leaders about his efforts to engage Tehran diplomatically while urging a united front to pressure Iran, especially in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election there.
Moscow has expressed doubts about Western accusations, denied by Tehran, that Iran is actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons. So analysts hold out little hope for a meeting of the minds on this issue in Moscow.
Expectations are high in Moscow that Russian leaders could announce that they will allow transit of more U.S. military cargo, including lethal supplies, via Russian territory to U.S.-led forces fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
Russia, still haunted by the Soviet Union’s failed invasion of Afghanistan, shares the United States’ interest in seeing stability there -- if for no other reason than preventing the spread of Islamist insurgency along its own borders.
Moscow recently relented in its opposition to a U.S. deal with neighboring Kyrgyzstan for continued use of a Central Asian air base as a crucial refueling point for U.S. aircraft in NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Increased Russian cooperation would give a boost to Obama’s new strategy of shifting the U.S. military focus from the Iraq war to Afghanistan.
RUSSIA’S WTO BID
There could also be unease at the summit over the latest twist in Russia’s 16-year-old bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Moscow recently accused the United States and European Union of making unreasonable demands for its entry and insisted it would now join only in partnership with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The move, which caught Washington by surprise, was seen not only as a reflection of Russian frustration with the slow pace of WTO accession talks but as a sign that Moscow may not view it as important a priority as it once did.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Michael Stott in Moscow, writing by Matt Spetalnick. Editing by Chris Wilson
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