At Munich Talks, Hope for Thaw in U.S.-Russian Ties

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will join a prestigious weekend conference in Germany amid high expectations that it could presage a thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington.

The Munich Security Conference, which opens Friday, gathers a dozen world leaders and 50 senior diplomats and defense officials.

"I see signals that the U.S. as well as Russia are interested in a new beginning," Wolfgang Ischinger, the conference chairman and a former German ambassador to London and Washington, told Bonn's General-Anzeiger newspaper this week.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in an opinion piece printed in Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, said it was a "positive sign" that Moscow last month said it would only go ahead with deploying missiles near the Polish border if the United States pushed forward with plans to install a missile defense system in Central Europe.

This year's conference is likely to focus on Afghanistan, which is a hot-button issue after Kyrgyzstan moved this week to shut a U.S. air base that is an important staging post for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia and its ex-Soviet allies wanted to cooperate with the United States on stabilizing Afghanistan, but he appeared to link any help to changes in Western policy, including the cancellation of the U.S. missile defense plans.

Meanwhile, a Western diplomatic source said Thursday that the United States and Uzbekistan were close to a deal allowing Washington to open a new supply route for its troops in Afghanistan.

(AP, Reuters)