Russia lays welcoming mat for Obama pick McFaul

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Russia on Thursday said US President Barack Obama's high-profile choice of new Moscow ambassador faced a tough confirmation hearing but would be a welcome guest in a country where he is a known quantity.

Obama nominated Michael McFaul as his Russian ambassador in a May move that promised to transform the role played by US diplomats in Moscow by placing one of the president's closest diplomatic aides just a few blocks from the Kremlin.

McFaul is currently Obama's chief Russia adviser on the National Security Council and considered one of the architects of the so-called "reset" of Russia-US relations that happened shortly after Obama took office in 2009.

"There is still the (US Senate) confirmation, which will not be so simple, we believe," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in televised remarks.

But he added: "We are well acquainted with Mr. McFaul. He has been working on Russian issues for a long time now. He is a very well-respected professional."

McFaul would succeed John Beyrle at a diplomatic assignment that ranked as one of the world's most challenging in the Cold War era but has since played a progressively more technical role.

Some in the Russian media said McFaul's nomination ahead of next year's Russian presidential election meant that Washington intended to upgrade the status of its Kremlin relations for the coming years.

The Russian foreign ministry spokesman said the outgoing ambassador had "managed to establish very good working contacts here in Moscow, which helped develop our bilateral relations and dialogue.

"We hope this succession will continue in the future," Lukashevich said.

© 2011 AFP

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