Sergey Lavrov: Now is the time for Russia and the US to cease to be adversaries

Monday 06 July 2009 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


There is a new dynamic in Russia-US relations - a positive change that reflects the imperatives of these challenging times. The "London spirit" of the first meeting of presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in London revitalized the equality, mutual respect, and mutual benefit that must form the basis of our two countries' cooperation. These are fundamental first steps. As President Medvedev has noted, a crisis of trust developed between us in recent years. Our political relationship became too adversarial. Overcoming this legacy will take time. So Russia and the US must jointly manage expectations to ensure that attempts to "reset" our relationship succeed. This does not mean shying away from setting ambitious goals. But it does require a sober assessment of what is really possible, and the time it will take to accomplish these goals.

President Obama's visit to Russia today will be a major milestone in this process. The agenda for the summit comprises various subjects - reduction of strategic offensive arms; nuclear nonproliferation; settlement of regional conflicts; countering terrorism, drug trafficking, and transborder crime; strengthening economic and cultural ties; structuring joint dialogue mechanisms. In the spirit of commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will strive to achieve real progress in disarmament and arms control. President Medvedev's commitment to make "real and verifiable" reductions in our nuclear arsenal indicates how far we are prepared to go. Success in this area will provide hope that we can eventually achieve our common goal of a nuclear-free world.

Russia and the US have unique experience in ensuring the safety and security of nuclear material. The presidents will discuss practical ways of making this experience available to other countries, to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy while strengthening the nonproliferation regime. For instance, we see good prospects for the "P5+1" effort to find a political solution to the problems associated with Iran's nuclear program that takes into account the legitimate security concerns of all countries of the region as well as Iran's important role there. And Russia and the US share the goal of persuading North Korea to respond to the will of the international community and resume participation in the Six-Party Talks to negotiate a solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula. We should also continue implementation of such joint initiatives as preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear material.

Another priority is streamlining the Euro-Atlantic security architecture - the principle to which we all officially agreed but which has failed to be put into practice. In London the two presidents agreed to discuss the Russian initiative on a new treaty aimed at ensuring indivisible security for all in the Euro-Atlantic region. This will be an important topic of the July summit.

Russia's interests align with US interests elsewhere, too. The countries are moving toward a new level of cooperation on Afghanistan. Since March, we have worked with the US and NATO to allow the transit of nonmilitary goods across Russia, and we continue to look for ways to work together to curb terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime in Afghanistan. Here again a genuine collective effort of the international community is required, including the full integration of states in the region. Also, together with other members of the "Quartet" (Russia, the US, the United Nations, and the European Union) and in close consultation with countries in the region, we are helping create conditions for a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on an internationally recognized legal and conceptual basis, including the two-state principle and the Arab peace initiative. It is in this spirit that our two nations are working together to hold a Middle East conference in Moscow later this year.

Finally, the summit in Moscow is an opportunity to continue discussions of the world economic crisis. As members of the G8 and G20, we should continue working to modernize the global financial architecture and address issues such as creating regional reserve currencies and giving emerging economies greater voice in multilateral financial institutions. Strengthening trade and investment ties between Russia and the US will also help ensure that our mutual efforts to "reset" our relationship are sustainable across a wide range of issues over the long term.

Russia and the US bear a special responsibility in world affairs. We have much to offer the rest of the world. Our common history testifies to this, and modern challenges demand that we work together. To succeed, we need to be guided by the wisdom of the great Albert Einstein who said: "Problems can't be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them." Indeed, we must move beyond the adversarial relationship of the past several years, toward one marked by trust and mutual responsibility.

Sergey Lavrov is Russia's foreign affairs minister. This article first appeared in Newsweek.

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