Obama, Putin to Go Beyond “Reset”, Tackle Iran, Asia-Pacific

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Brussels, Belgium – Wary of Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign remark that Russia was the United States’ top geopolitical foe, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Barack Obama’s re-election and confirmed he had invited the US President to visit Russia in 2013.

The Kremlin leader highlighted the achievements in Russia-US relations in the previous years and expressed hope for further constructive joint work over bilateral, regional and international problems. Putin also hailed the co-operation between Moscow and Washington that is of key importance for maintaining stable development in the world.

Jim Collins, a former US ambassador to Russia and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, told New Europe by phone on November 7, “the reset” in Russian-American relations that began during Obama’s first term has been accomplished to a large extent. 

He said Washington and Moscow have to devise a new agenda for their relations. “We have got to move on now,” he said. “Perhaps a new term will be coined about what we do in the next four years.”

In April 2009, Obama and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev defined an agenda to “reset” the strained ties between the two superpowers.

“If you look at the items that were on that agenda as constituting the building of a new foundation for relations it has been pretty well put in place,” Collins said.

“It included the strategic arms agreement, which was accomplished and ratified by both countries; it included civilian nuclear co-operation, which is now in existence, the agreement was put into force; it has included trying to bring ourselves closer to dealing with the Iran nuclear issue and there has been good progress on that,” the ambassador said, citing US sources.

“It included developing Russian engagement as part of the support structure for the American and allied effort in Afghanistan, which is ongoing; and it included Russia’s accession to the WTO [World Trade Organization], which is now a fact,” Collins said.

“Now there were two or three things that didn’t get done. Missile defense was discussed but it was not resolved,” the ambassador said, adding that at least a foundation was put down that both sides are prepared to look at co-operative missile defense.

Collins noted that the general situation of security in Europe still has many different elements to it that have not been really dealt with and they need to be addressed.

“I think we can expect that a second term for President Obama is going to continue to try to build a successful relationship with Moscow,” Collins said, adding that there new challenges. He also pointed out the fact that President Putin is now president rather than prime minister.

Collins called for devising a new agenda for US-Russia relations. “Now, as the due term for the American President begins, my own view is that there is a new agenda that has to be defined,” the ambassador told New Europe.

One element is missile defense. “I think that it is imperative that the Americans and Russians find a way to resolve the issue of developing a co-operative missile defence for Europe and Eurasia. The fact of the matter is the best system is going involve everybody. It will be more effective if it does and it’s possible to do it and it can be done. It’s a matter of finding the political will to get it finished, Collins said.

The second element on the agenda is rethinking the goal in terms of US-Russia relations vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Central Asia and the region. Collins noted that the American and allied role is going to change at the end of 2014. “What is Russia’s role going to be then?” Collins asked.

“We have to figure it out because the Afghan question is not going away. I think a new set of issues have to deal with the Asia Pacific and security in that region. We really haven’t engaged on this issue up to know. And the Russians and the Americans are dealing with a changing reality in Asia and the Asia Pacific region,” the Carnegie expert said.

Another element on the agenda is economic co-operation. Russia finally joined the WTO on August 22, 2012 after 19 years of accession talks. It is the last large economy to join the exclusive club. 

“It’s pretty clear to me that having gotten Russia in the WTO, that’s a tangible thing. But the question now can the economic relationship be strengthened and built much further, Collins said.

The diplomat said Putin and Obama have to decide what the agenda is going to be in order to facilitate a workable and productive relationship going forward.

The former US ambassador to Moscow also noted that American and Russian views differ on a number of issues, including Syria. “Neither we nor the Russians to be frank have an answer to what to do about Mr [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and his growing civil war. I think we have to find a way to think through this issue,” Collins said.

“The Iran issue is going to be there and whether or not it’s possible to make a common cause in moving this issue from where it is today to a successful resolution of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, I don’t know. But it’s got to be on the agenda,” he said.

Collins said the next phases for the Middle East and the Arab world are a set of issues in which the US and Russia will be engaged. 

Kostis Geropoulos
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Guest contributor Kostis Geropoulos is the Energy and Russian Affairs Editor of the New Europe newspaper. His weekly column, “Energy Insider,” is available at www.neurope.eu, and he can also be followed on twitter (@energyinsider)

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