WASHINGTON – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Saturday for talks with Barack Obama as soon as possible after the U.S. president-elect takes the oath of office.
On his first visit to the United States since becoming Russia's president in May, Medvedev reached out to the incoming U.S. administration.
He said there is a lack of trust between Russia and the United States, but he hopes this will change when Obama becomes president Jan. 20. Medvedev said it was "in our power" for Russian-American relations to be "truly a partnership."
He said it is not particularly important what issue he and Obama choose to discuss at their first meeting. "The main thing is that the meeting takes place and that it takes place quickly," said Medvedev, who was in Washington for the global financial summit.
But he suggested that U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe would be a good place to start the discussion.
Just hours after Obama won the presidential election, Medvedev fired a shot across his bow by warning that Russia would move short-range missiles to NATO's borders to "neutralize" the missile defense system if necessary.
Medvedev has since backed off slightly. He stressed Saturday that Russia would not act unless the United States took the first step and expressed hope that the Obama administration will be open to negotiations.
"I hope that the new president, the new administration will have a desire to discuss this," Medvedev told members of the Council on Foreign Relations. "At least the first signals that we have received indicate that our new partners are thinking about this issue and do not simply plan to rubber stamp the plans."
The Russian president gave a short speech and then settled into an armchair next to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to continue the discussion with her. The choice of Albright carried additional significance since she acted as a surrogate for Obama at the summit.
When asked about the missile defense system, Medvedev said he would not speak "as emotionally" on the issue as French President Nicolas Sarkozy but needed to stand to address the issue properly.
Sarkozy caused waves by criticizing the planned missile defense system Friday, saying it would not make Europe safer. But he backed down Saturday.
The Bush administration has insisted the planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic is aimed at protecting Europe from Iran. But Russia sees the plans as a Cold War-style project that could eliminate Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Obama has not been explicit about his intentions, saying it would be prudent to "explore the possibility" but expressing some skepticism about the technical capability of U.S. missile defenses.
Medvedev said he did not time his Nov. 5 speech — his first state of the nation address — to coincide with Obama's election.
He had postponed the address twice, which he said Saturday was because he was unhappy with the material that had been prepared. When he finally set the date, he said he forgot about the U.S. election. "It was nothing personal," he said.