Clinton in Russia for talks

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. Hillary Clinton is in Moscow today. It's her first trip to Russia as Secretary of State. And it comes at what may be a transitional moment in US-Russian relations. They were pretty stormy under President George W. Bush. Barack Obama is looking for a change in the weather, and he sent his top diplomat to the Russian capital to take the next step. The World's Matthew Bell tells us how the Clinton visit has fared.

MATTHEW BELL: Hillary Clinton came to the job of Secretary of State saying she wanted to hit the "re-set button" on US-Russian relations. After meeting with her counterpart in Moscow today, Clinton used some diplomatic language to suggest that process is well under way.

HILLARY CLINTON: We really are committed to this relationship. We believe strongly that working together step by step we are transforming a relationship that was once defined by the shadow of mutually assured destruction into one that is based on mutual respect, and over time, increasingly, mutual trust.

BELL: President Obama's recent decision to scale down US missile defense plans in Eastern Europe might have been a down payment on building that mutual trust. Moscow long considered American missile defense to be a deterrent aimed at Russia, but Secretary Clinton today described the program as an opportunity for both countries.

CLINTON: We are very interested in working with Russia to develop cooperation, including a joint threat assessment and intensified efforts to establish a joint data exchange center, as our presidents agreed to in July, as a means of making missile defense a common enterprise.

BELL: Clinton said the common threat comes from Iran. And when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, she said Washington and Moscow are on the same page.

CLINTON: We believe that Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, but that it is not entitled to nuclear weapons. Russia agrees with us on that.

BELL: But there may be some disagreement on what to do if negotiations with Iran fail.

CLINTON: We have always looked at the potential of sanctions in the event that we are not successful.

BELL: The Russians though have been hesitant to play up the threat of new sanctions. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made that point clearly today.

SERGEI LAVROV: [speaking in Russian] Threats of sanctions, and threats of pressure right now are counterproductive.

BELL: So, was Lavrov pouring cold water on the idea that the Obama administration could expect a tougher line on sanctions for Iran?

KATHRYN STONER-WEISS: He's throwing luke warm water.

BELL: Kathryn Stoner-Weiss is a Russia expert at Stanford University. She says the Russians are in a tricky position with Iran.

STONER-WEISS: They can't come out and openly declare sanctions against Iran because they have too many ties in there on a bunch of different levels, especially economically. But they also don't have an interest in having Iran sitting right below them, close to a very volatile area that they have an interest in as well, which is central Asia. They don't have a big interest in Iran having a nuclear weapon either.

BELL: Stoner-Weiss says the Russians are walking a fine line with Iran. They want to keep selling the Iranians military equipment, oil and gas. But they also see that there's leverage to be gained with Washington by stepping up the pressure on the nuclear issue. The Russian foreign minister might have had that in mind today. He said there are no disagreements with the US over Iran's nuclear program, because there's nothing to disagree about. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.