United States urged to repair struggling relationship with Russia

WASHINGTON – The United States should seek Russia’s close cooperation in dealing with Iran and solicit Moscow’s participation or at least acquiescence to a missile defense system in Europe, a panel of former high-level American diplomats and members of Congress urged yesterday. Calling for across-the-board repairs to a splintered relationship with Russia, the commission took note of some recent positive trends. But the panel warned that ‘we are deeply concerned by the gap between the current U.S.-Russian relationship and the level of cooperation that the United States needs with Russia in order to advance vital American interests.’ The commission, headed by former Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Gary Hart, D-Colo., is a joint project of the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs of Harvard University. Describing current relations as ‘deeply troubled,’ the commission said, however, Moscow is not hostile to the United States, ‘at least not yet.’ Even if the relationship breaks down completely, Russia does not have the will or the resources for a new Cold War, the report said. Both governments are to blame for the decline, the panel concluded. Rebuilding the relationship ‘is not solely the responsibility of the United States,’ the report said. Despite repeated U.S. assurances that a Bush administration-proposed missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic would not be aimed at Russia, the proposition has stirred already widespread resentment in Moscow. The commission proposed the Obama administration ‘take a new look’ at U.S. missile deployments in Eastern Europe and concentrate instead on cooperation with Russia in confronting any threat from Iran. A recent private letter from President Barack Obama to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly broached recasting the proposed system to allay Russian concerns in return for Moscow’s aid in dealing with the Iranian threat to build nuclear weapons. ‘Building a joint system that could include Russian facilities and equipment is most desirable,’ the report said. The United States has a strong interest in attracting Russia’s cooperation. Key U.S. allies would prefer such an approach and ‘it would send a powerful signal to Iran’ while avoiding new dangers from a possible Moscow reaction to deployment without an understanding with Russia, the report said. The two leaders will meet in London early next month at the start of an international economic summit. In another gesture to Moscow, the commission said the United States does not have ‘a compelling security interest’ in expanding NATO membership for either Ukraine or Georgia at this time. However, it recommended a NATO ‘special relationship’ with the two former Soviet republics. Last month, Vice President Joe Biden called on the two sides to ‘press the reset button’ on relations following the change of administrations in Washington. And last week, in a meeting with members of the commission, Medvedev said: ‘I think we have every possibility of opening a new page in Russian-American relations’ at the meeting with Obama. ‘Unfortunately, our relations have deteriorated very significantly in recent years,’ Medvedev said.