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Russia 'pinning hopes on Obama'

Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington (15 November 2008)
Mr Medvedev said Russia would not do anything until the US took the first step

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said he hopes US President-elect Barack Obama will help rebuild the strained relations between their two countries.

In a speech in Washington, Mr Medvedev said that a new US administration might be able to address what he described as a lack of "necessary mutual trust".

He said he wanted to meet Mr Obama soon after he takes office in January.

The Russian leader also indicated that Russia might accept a compromise over a planned US missile shield in Europe.

Two weeks ago, he said Moscow would neutralise the possible deployment by the US of a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland by stationing short-range missiles in its western enclave of Kaliningrad.

The US insists the shield is incapable of threatening Russia and is designed solely to guard against missile attacks by "rogue states".

'Encouraged by signals'

In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations following the G20 summit on the global economic crisis in Washington, President Medvedev welcomed the election of Mr Obama on 4 November.

"US-Russian relations lack the necessary mutual trust. We pin such hopes on the arrival of the new US administration," he explained.

We have a chance to solve the problem through either agreeing on a global [anti-missile] system or, as a minimum, to find a solution on the existing programmes which would suit the Russian Federation
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Mr Medvedev said Russia had a strong "strategic partnership" with China, "a very good, full-fledged, friendly exchange".

"Of course I want to have the same kind of relations with the United States," he went on.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been particularly strained since August by Russia's war with Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr Medvedev said the first step to restoring relations would be a meeting soon after Mr Obama's inauguration, "without prevarications or preconditions".

The president also said that Russia would not be the first to escalate the situation over the plans for the US missile shield in Europe.

"We will not do anything until America takes the first step," he said.

The Iskander missile system. File photo
Moscow says it will neutralise the US system with short-range missiles
Mr Medvedev said he had been encouraged by signs that Mr Obama was less enthusiastic about the shield than President George W Bush.

"[The] first signal we received shows that our partners plan to think about this programme rather than to simply rubber-stamp it," he said.

The Russian president also for the first time suggested Moscow might accept changes to the US shield plans, rather than simply their abandonment.

"We have a chance to solve the problem through either agreeing on a global system or, as a minimum, to find a solution on the existing programmes which would suit the Russian Federation," he added.

Cuba trip

On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Mr Medvedev about deploying missiles in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland.

At an EU-Russia summit in Nice, both sides agreed there should be no provocative moves before another meeting next year to discuss Moscow's security plans.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has announced that Mr Medvedev will visit Cuba as part of a Latin American tour this month.

He was already scheduled to visit Brazil and Peru as well as Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez has an antagonistic relationship with the US.

Correspondents say Washington's irritation will increase now that he will become the first Russian leader in eight years to visit Cuba, a key client of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

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