Efforts to repair relations between Russia and the United States got underway on two fronts yesterday, as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright held talks with her Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, in Singapore, while Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin continued a three-day visit to the United States. Ties between Moscow and Washington had reached their post-Cold War nadir during NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia, but leaders from the two countries have tried since the end of that conflict to reduce tensions and to move forward in several key areas of cooperation. The latest high-level Russian-U.S. contacts were triggered by friendly talks last month in Cologne between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton.
Yesterday’s meeting in Singapore was the first between Albright and Ivanov since the end of the Balkans conflict. Albright and Ivanov met for more than two hours on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum. Afterward, U.S. officials suggested that the two ministers had held an “extremely good and unusually serious discussion” on a wide array of issues, and that they had agreed on a concrete working plan for moving forward on them. Those issues reportedly included a “full review” of Kosovo and Iraq, as well as nuclear arms reduction, amending the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, and revitalizing the partnership between NATO and Russia. Albright and Ivanov were even reported to have found some “common ground”–though not a full understanding–on who should receive postwar aid in Serbia. Russia has been sharply critical of Western plans to withhold major economic aid from Serbia while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power in Belgrade.
Ivanov, meanwhile, said that the Kremlin would renew its efforts to win ratification of the START II treaty by Russian lawmakers. He also reemphasized what he said was Moscow’s strategic goal of establishing a “stable partnership” with the United States. “The crisis in the Balkans has darkened the atmosphere of our relations and now the major goal is to double and triple efforts to pass through this period and strengthen Russian-U.S. interaction,” Ivanov said. In addition to the rhetoric, Albright and Ivanov signed an agreement which will establish a “hotline” to connect their two offices. The new line was said to be aimed at avoiding future misunderstandings during times of crisis. There has long been a secure communications link between the White House and the Kremlin (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, July 26).