Starting Fresh With Obama

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President-elect Barack Obama has formed his team of advisers, but it would be difficult to call them "friends of Russia." This reflects in part the cool relations Washington and Moscow have had for nearly eight years. No wonder the Kremlin is taking a close look at statements made by members of the new administration to discern whether Washington will support many of the same positions adopted by former U.S. President George W. Bush or if he will finally make changes to U.S. foreign policy that the whole world has long awaited.

Nobody in Russia is expecting that our relationship with Washington will improve overnight. Obama's team has more pressing issues to deal with in other parts of the world such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. After an unsuccessful attempt to keep the United States as the unchallenged leader of a unipolar world, Washington will need the support of allies and partners more than ever. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed this idea during her Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 13: "America cannot solve the most pressing problems [in international affairs] on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America."

Russia's direct participation is required to solve many of these global problems, particularly in Eurasia, where the interests of both countries coincide. Clinton's words suggest that the United States will rely on its partners and accept the fact that the world is now multipolar. If Washington can accept these fundamental positions, it will open up many new opportunities to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Under Putin, Russia has returned as a major global power, but it understands that it needs allies and partners as much as the United States does to maintain that leadership status.

As a key element of Russia's foreign policy, Moscow must play a leading role in such strategic issues as the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the regulation of missile defense, reforms to the global financial system and the fight against terrorism. The new U.S. administration is ready to cooperate with Russia in these areas first. Clinton's statement inspires hope that Moscow and Washington will find common ground regarding Iran; there is talk of U.S. readiness to hold direct talks with that country.

Certainly, the United States will not renounce its role as a global leader, and it will continue to "stand up strongly for American values," as Clinton stated in the Senate hearing. It is generally thought that a Democratic administration puts more stress on these "American values," such as human rights, when it formulates its foreign policy, whereas Republican administrations tend to be guided more by realpolitik principles.

Over the past eight years, there was no shortage of areas over which Russia and the Bush administration sharply disagreed. The most divisive issues were U.S. plans to deploy elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, the expansion of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and Iran's nuclear program. Moscow hopes that the new president will reconsider his position on missile defense in Central Europe. If he does, Russia will most likely not deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.

Moscow is concerned that the Obama administration will continue to support requests from Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO. In a broader sense, there are disagreements between Russia and the United States on policies in the former Soviet republics and in Europe. Russia is far from alone in opposing Washington's foreign policy. Last week, German Foreign Minister — and possibly future chancellor — Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote a letter to Obama suggesting that the United States consider President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal for a European security pact covering the territory stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Moscow is ready to cooperate with Washington on all issues of mutual concern, including the prevention of nuclear terrorism and the fight against narcotics trafficking.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said many times that Russia and the United States should develop a unified agenda. That was also reflected in the strategic framework declaration signed in Sochi by then-Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin, in which the two countries agreed that such cooperation should be built upon the principles of equality, honest dialogue and friendly relations.

Now more than ever, Washington and Moscow need more dialogue on a whole range of issues. I believe that these negotiations should take place on all levels, both governmental and nongovernmental. As the head of the Russian side of the Federation Council-U.S. Senate working group, I am ready to discuss how to increase cooperation between our two countries. I have great hopes for this group, since talks are conducted in a more candid manner than between official diplomats. That is why I am certain that U.S.-Russia relations will improve, starting with the very first meeting between U.S. senators and members of the Federation Council under the new Obama presidency.

Mikhail Margelov is chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council.