U.S. Lawmaker Seeks New Russia Approach

ReutersHilary Clinton
The United States must fix its relationship with Russia partly because it needs a partner in Moscow to help deal with Iran, a senior U.S. lawmaker said.

Howard Berman, chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee in the House of Representatives, called for a fresh U.S. approach to Russia, where he said the administration of President George W. Bush had "stovepiped" — or kept separate — different, sometimes conflicting issues without deciding what was most important.

For example, the Bush administration had sought Moscow's cooperation on pressing Iran not to develop nuclear weapons — but simultaneously angered Moscow by pushing to deploy a missile- defense system near Russia's borders to shoot down any missiles fired by Iran.

"To what extent is one [U.S. policy] offsetting the other?" Berman told Reuters in an interview. "What is our priority?

"To have an effective strategy on Iran, we are going to need Russia as a partner," Berman said. "I do think we need some fundamental course corrections here, and I think the new administration shares that view."

Russia has a number of ties with Iran, having built Iran's first atomic power station and delivered nuclear fuel there.

Tehran says Moscow has also delivered air defense systems to Iran, which could help repel any Israeli or U.S. air strikes on Iran's nuclear sites.

House Of Representatives
Howard Berman
Berman said the U.S. relationship with Moscow was very important, mentioning as examples Russia's possession of nuclear weapons and its role as a major energy supplier.

Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama's nominee for secretary of state, said Tuesday that if confirmed she would work to engage Russia as well as Iran.

Washington has led a diplomatic drive to deny Iran access to nuclear technology with bomb-making potential; Iran says its nuclear work is a peaceful project designed to generate electricity.

Clinton said the Obama administration would seek to create "better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon power."

Russia, to Iran's north, would presumably be one of those countries.

Clinton also said she wanted to revive the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires Dec. 31.

Negotiations for a follow-up agreement to replace START-1 have made little progress under the Bush administration, and talks in Moscow last month ended without a breakthrough.

"We want to get out of the box early. We want Russia to know that we are serious," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during confirmation hearings.

While State Department negotiators say they are focusing on limits on nuclear warheads in the new agreement, Russia wants limits on conventional forces and to negotiate the U.S. plans for a missile shield in Central Europe.

(Reuters, MT)