Obama welcomes Russia's Medvedev

24th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Barack Obama welcomed Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to the White House Thursday, crediting improved US relations with the Kremlin for a series of foreign policy breakthroughs.

The two leaders met for Oval Office talks encompassing key diplomatic and security issues and were to hold a joint press conference, before both taking part in a US-Russia business summit in Washington.

Medvedev arrived in Washington fresh from a tour of Silicon Valley, which saw him brandish an iPad and courting Internet pioneers in a bid to showcase his effort to launch a technology revolution in Russia.

"I think that we believe that this visit takes place at a new phase in US-Russia relations," said Ben Rhodes, director of strategic communications on the National Security Council.

"It comes after a period when we've made very substantial progress in resetting the US-Russia relationship and making concrete progress on a number of very important and substantive areas."

Obama took office vowing to recalibrate relations with the Kremlin, after a tense period in the latter years in the Bush administration, which included tensions over Russia's war with Georgia.

Administration officials say that "reset" -- reciprocated by Medvedev -- has resulted in important progress, for example with a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the START agreement and new UN nuclear sanctions on Iran.

Russia has also cooperated with Washington on supplying US troops in Afghanistan, and now both sides want to move beyond "flashpoint" issues and seek new areas of cooperation, including in economics.

However, some US critics of Obama say he may be relying too much on a personal relationship with Medvedev, and argue that the real power in Russia lies with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

They also cite what they say is a deteriorating human rights situation in Russia and question whether Moscow is merely cooperating with Washington in the short-term in a bid to enhance its long-term geopolitical interests.

Medvedev's three-day visit -- the seventh meeting between the two leaders -- aims to further improve US-Russia ties and strengthen cooperation on economic issues and new technology.

Cooperation increasingly has extended to the thorny area of crafting an international response to Iran's controversial nuclear program.

After months of US-led diplomacy, Russia this month backed a new UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

But Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said earlier this month however that Moscow was disappointed by additional US and EU unilateral measures against Iran, warning the moves could affect cooperation in the nuclear crisis.

Economic relations also are to play a key role during the Medvedev visit.

The Russian leader, who arrived in California late Tuesday, first stopped off in Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the high-tech revolution.

Medvedev's first "tweet" from his new Twitter account, @KremlinRussia, was a message in Russian that was translated into English as "Hello everyone, I am now on Twitter."

Besides Twitter, the Russian leader also paid a visit to the offices of technology star Apple and secured a commitment from US networking giant Cisco that it would invest one billion dollars in Russia.

"My purpose is not just to see what is going on there, it is not a guided tour," Medvedev said through an interpreter while chatting with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a San Francisco hotel.

"I would like to have my visit be translated into full-fledged relations and into cooperation with those companies."

Before departing Russia, Medvedev said his country could use the experience of Silicon Valley to modernize, calling the high-tech hub "quite interesting" for future modernization projects in Russia.

One project Medvedev has singled out as a priority is the setting up of an innovation center in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo, envisaging it as a Russian Silicon Valley.

The project aims to entice leading Russian and foreign scientists to focus their energies on nuclear and bio-medical technologies, energy and telecommunications.

After wrapping up his US visit, Medvedev is to take part in the Group of Eight and Group of 20 summits in Canada over the weekend.

© 2010 AFP

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