Obama To Meet With Russia's President Medvedev

President Obama hopes to reverse a serious slide in relations with Moscow when he meets Russian President Dmitri Medvedev for the first time Wednesday. They'll get together in London on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama planned some important one-on-one meetings when the G-20 Summit convenes tomorrow in London. In a moment we'll hear about the discussion with his Chinese counterpart, but first a look at how he'll try to reverse a serious slide in relations with Moscow when he meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time.

As NPR's Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer reports, it won't be easy because the two sides face serious divisions.

GREGORY FEIFER: When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first met her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, last month, Washington hoped it didn't set a bad precedent for a new dialogue.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We want to reset our relationship and…

Mr. SERGEY LAVROV (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russia): Let's do it together.

Sec. CLINTON: So, we will do it together.

FEIFER: Clinton presented Lavrov with a mock reset button, then asked him whether the term reset had been correctly translated into Russian.

Mr. LAVROV: You get it wrong.

Sec. CLINTON: I got it wrong.

Mr. LAVROV: It should be (Russian spoken).

FEIFER: You could almost hear the cringing in the State Department. But the meeting went off well. Russia now says it's interested in changing the tone of relations. But the Kremlin says if ties are to improve, the onus rests squarely on Washington to change its policies.

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: Last month, Medvedev warned the threat of NATO expansion towards Russia's borders is forcing Moscow to modernize its military. It was partly to stop U.S. ally Georgia from joining NATO that Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbor last year, plunging relations with the United States to Cold War lows.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Ragozin, characterizes them now as being in the middle of a minefield.

Mr. DMITRY ROGOZIN (Russia Ambassador to NATO): (Through translator) The previous U.S. administration did a lot to put them there. Moving forward now will be very difficult, and to start will require diffusing the mines.

FEIFER: Among the obstacles, Rogozin blamed Washington for dragging its heels on the item at the top of the agenda tomorrow - a new nuclear arms agreement to replace the START Treaty that expires this year. But Rogozin says he's optimistic Mr. Obama's meeting with Medvedev will lead to concrete results. Foreign policy expert, Alexander Canavoliv(ph), agrees.

Mr. ALEXANDER CANAVOLIV (Foreign Policy Expert): It was a pleasant surprise to me, that President Obama included in his urgent and immediate foreign policy agenda, problem of relations with Russia. I didn't expect such an inclusion.

FEIFER: Washington says it needs Russia's help to solve some of its top foreign policy issues, such as Afghanistan and the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. But scholar, Andre Piantkoski(ph), warns that's a mistaken belief.

Mr. ANDRE PIANTKOSKI (Scholar): The problem is that Moscow will not provide any help in Iran and Afghanistan because Moscow has different agenda.

FEIFER: Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Iran, to which it's also sold anti-aircraft missiles. And earlier this year, Moscow complicated U.S. efforts in Afghanistan by pressuring nearby Kyrgyzstan to close a key U.S. airbase. Piantkoski says more than that, indications Washington will back away from building a missile defense system in Europe have done nothing to dampen Moscow's fury. He said the Kremlin needs to paint the United States as an enemy to distract Russians from the effects of the global financial crisis.

Mr. PIANTKOSKI: Obama administration doesn't understand that how many concessions it will do to Moscow, the next day Kremlin invent another grievances, another problems.

FEIFER: Piantkoski believes Russia wants to sign a new nuclear arms deal to be perceived as an equal partner to the United States. But otherwise, beyond pleasantries in London tomorrow, he says relations between Washington and Moscow won't noticeably change.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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