Russia's Medvedev 'cautiously optimistic' ahead of Obama's visit

Russia's president has said ties with the U.S. are showing signs of improvement, and that President Barack Obama's upcoming visit could provide an important impetus to relations, RIA-Novosti reported Monday.

Obama will arrive in Moscow on Monday for talks set to focus on strategic arms reduction, as well as a range of bilateral and international issues including the U.S. missile shield planned for Central Europe, the financial crisis, and the upcoming G8 summit.

"At the moment, I think that we are all feeling cautiously optimistic - both the Russian side and the American side. I hear what my colleague, President Obama, says. So we are eagerly awaiting the U.S. president's visit to our country," Medvedev said in an interview with Raitalia TV channel and the Corriere della Sera newspaper, published on the Kremlin website.

"I spoke to him a few days ago on the phone, and we discussed the agenda, and the process of drawing up a new treaty on strategic arms issues. This is the most important item on the agenda."

The Russian leader said that in recent years, the two countries have "disagreed on all kinds of issues on the international agenda."

"Russian-American relations under the previous U.S. administration degraded significantly; even though the personal relationship between the countries' leaders was good, personable, and friendly, inter-governmental relations were very difficult."

The White House said last week that Obama would be seeking to build "accord" with Russia, but does not want to "trade" on key dispute.

On one of the main disputes between Russia and the United States in recent years - Washington's plans for an interceptor missile base in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic - Medvedev said Moscow's opposition remains unchanged. The U.S. says the missile shield is needed to defend against a potential Iranian strike, while Russia says the plans would harm its national security.

"Poland and the Czech Republic are in one part of the world, and Iran is in another. I struggle to understand how it is possible to talk about these missile defenses as being related to the Mideast problem. So it seems to me that all these arguments were fabricated to justify a decision taken by the previous U.S. administration, without consulting other members of NATO - essentially, in a unilateral manner," Medvedev said.

On European criticism of Russia's support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the likely discussions on Iran at the G8 summit, Medvedev said: "Iran is an important partner for us. We communicate, and we have a whole range of shared problems on which we cooperate very productively."

"We will continue to talk to Iran as a neighbor, and as a foreign policy partner. So discussions on this theme seem to me not entirely appropriate."

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