Clinton Says She'll Hit 'Reset Button' With Russia

With the Obama administration hoping to improve relations with Russia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.

While in Brussels, Clinton sat down with NPR's Michele Kelemen for this exclusive interview.

Kelemen: Madam Secretary, you've exchanged letters, you met briefly in Egypt this week already with Sergey Lavrov, but this is going to be your first lengthy meeting with the Russian foreign minister tonight. How do you set the tone, because as you know your predecessor had quite a testy relationship with him?

Clinton: Well, we're going to hit the reset button and start fresh because clearly the Obama administration believes that there are a number of important areas to discuss with the Russians. We're just at the beginning of this discussion, but I'm looking forward to it.

I was pleased that Foreign Minister Lavrov came to Sharm el-Sheikh, was a participant in our Quartet meeting, joined with all of us in reasserting the Quartet principle. That was a very good sign. And Russia joined with us in the P5 plus 1 [the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany], sending a letter to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] about our concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program. So, there's a lot for us to do together.

The Russians seem really interested in arms control, and I wonder if you can give us a sense of how the Obama administration is going to approach that topic differently from the Bush administration.

We're going to believe in arms control and nonproliferation as a core function of our foreign policy. As you remember, Michele, there was a great deal of confusion and infighting and ideological position taking regarding arms control and nonproliferation in the last administration. We're committed to both, and we are going to be working with the Russians on the start treaty and the nonproliferation treaty and other matters of great concern to us.

Yesterday at NATO headquarters, you suggested this high-level conference on Afghanistan — a big tent conference. And you said that Iran would probably be invited. What incentive does Iran have to come to such a meeting?

Well, we made a proposal for a big tent meeting — we don't have any agreement or details or place or anything like that set up. But we think it's important to provide an opportunity for everyone who has an interest in the stability of Afghanistan to come together and determine how we're going to work toward the security and stability there.

Well it's interesting. You have this overture, you're sending envoys to Syria, you've told Israelis and Palestinians on this trip that peace talks are inescapable. You've talked about this fresh start with Russia. This is a lot of diplomatic outreach in one week.

Yes, it does feel like a lot. But, I think we have a sense of urgency in the Obama administration. We believe that there are a lot of challenges and threats that we have inherited that we have to address. But there are also opportunities, and we are being extremely vigorous in our outreach. Because we're testing waters, we're determining what is possible. We're turning new pages and resetting buttons. And we're doing all kinds of efforts to try to create more partners and fewer adversaries.

And do you think that's why you had such an overflow crowd at this town hall in the European parliament building, or why you got applause at a dinner with European foreign ministers? I mean, that's quite unusual.

Well, I think that the Europeans are excited and relieved at the change in Washington. President Obama and I share a view that there are many ways that the European Union and the United States must work together. We believe that about NATO — these are our strongest ties of alliance going back decades. And it's important to demonstrate that the United States is back. We are listening. We're consulting. We don't pretend to have all the answers to meet these problems that we share.

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