U.S. 'wise men' on diplomatic mission to Russia

Posted in Russia , United States | 21-Mar-09 | Author: Andrew E. Kramer| Source: International Herald Tribune

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meets with a group of U.S. foreign policy veterans led by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, right center, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, March 20, 2009.

MOSCOW: Trying to pull America's relations with Russia out of a tailspin before the presidents of the two countries meet for the first time next month, three former U.S. secretaries of state and a former secretary of defense were in Moscow on Thursday for informal meetings with top officials.

A month after the Obama administration sent a letter proposing a dialog that would link U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe with Russian support for curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, the flurry of diplomacy by figures outside of government marked another sign of outreach to Russia.

Henry A. Kissinger, who is 85 years old and the architect of the original d├ętente policy with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, led a group of former U.S. officials known as the "wise men" on a visit to the Russian capital. They are advocating a new round of international arms reductions talks intended to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Separately, James A. Baker 3rd, who was secretary of state when the Berlin Wall fell, was in Moscow for a conference on the politics of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas riches that Russia and the West are maneuvering to access.

Mr. Baker, in a speech, called the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons laudable but said Russian and American relations could be improved with a more modest resumption of talks to prolong a nuclear arms reduction treaty, Start I, which expires in December.

The visits by these men, though long out of government, were seen as testing the waters in Russia for President Barrack Obama's plan to press the "reset" button on bilateral relations.

The former secretaries of state from the Reagan and the first Bush administrations have strong contacts in Russia related to a turbulent period during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Today, issues are again piling up.

Russia has declared a sphere of privileged interest over Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet states that the United States would like to see admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Russia is considering opening long-range bomber bases in Venezuela. That is seen as a response to U.S. plans to position anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, the Start I cornerstone of nuclear arms reduction treaties expires in December, and no replacement has been negotiated.

Along with Mr. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, a former secretary of state; William Perry, a former secretary of defense; and a retired U.S. senator, Sam Nunn, were scheduled to meet President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Friday.

The visit by the former officials was surely a gesture of outreach to an ever more prickly Russia. Still, the Obama administration's policies are seen as works in progress. Administration officials recently solicited policy ideas, for example, from the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.