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Putin-Obama meeting in Northern Ireland to set tone for Russia-US relations for next few years

June 13, 2013, 13:13 UTC+3

However, it will not eliminate the most acute differences between Moscow and Washington on Syria and missile defense, leading U.S. experts in US-Russian relations say

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WASHINGTON, June 13 (Itar-Tass) - The meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, on the margins of the upcoming G-8 summit in Northern Ireland on June 17-18, will set the tone for bilateral relations for the remainder of Obama's presidency. However, it will not eliminate the most acute differences between Moscow and Washington on Syria and missile defense, leading U.S. experts in US-Russian relations told Itar-Tass.

"The meeting provides an opportunity to agree on the agenda for that period," Managing Director Thomas E. Graham, Kissinger Associates, Inc. said.

"The two sides clearly want to put behind them the acrimony that dominated relations from the time of the Duma elections in December 2011 until U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon delivered Obama's letter to Putin in April of this year. At a minimum, in their public comments and any joint press conference at the G-8 summit, the two presidents will want to indicate that they intend to have normal working relations. /A close working relationship is out of the question, given what has transpired over the past year and a half/, Graham believes.

"The meeting between Presidents Putin and Obama will provide an opportunity to resume a dialogue after a difficult year in U.S-Russian relations," said Angela E. Stent, PhD, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

In her opinion, "this presidential summit will seek to restart the relationship and move beyond the mutual criticisms engendered by the Magnitsky Act and the Dima Yakovlev Act. The longer-term goal in U.S-Russian relations should be to achieve enough stability and predictability that it will not be necessary to "reset" the relationship every few years."

The specialists drew attention to the fact that ahead of the summit, Obama and Putin exchanged letters, in which they stated their approaches to the key issues of international and bilateral relations, including Syria and missile defense.

"Missile defense and Syria were undoubtedly raised in both letters. But the two sides remain far apart on how to deal with either issue. The most one can expect is that Obama and Putin agree on a broad framework for resolving the differences. If they do, the hard work of fleshing out concrete resolutions will be left to key officials on both sides - a process that will take weeks at a minimum, more likely months, with success far from certain. It is a stretch to think that the two presidents might have something substantive to endorse on either missile defense or Syria when they next meet in September in Russia," according to Graham.

Angela Stent, too, thinks that the sides will hardly be able to eliminate these disagreements.

"As long as it appears that President Assad is not losing ground, greater U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria will prove elusive. A second major issue is missile defense. The Obama administration has abandoned phase four of the current deployment plans, but the response from Moscow has been muted. It does not appear that the differences over the issue of written guarantees that the system will not be used against Russia can be overcome," she said.

This does not imply that solutions of these issues cannot be found in a more distant future, Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Heritage Foundation, Washington, Ariel Cohen said. He believes they should be looked for while taking into account the balance of forces between the USA, China, the European Union and Russia. Such a triangle could become a stable structure at least until mid-century. It would be possible to resolve both the Syrian and Iranian issues within its framework, and also find a mutually suitable missile defense plan, the specialists said.

At the same time, U.S. specialists expressed confidence that the meeting in Northern Ireland might give an impulse to the development of cooperation in other fields.

"President Putin has expressed interest in strengthening economic ties between the two countries and President Obama is equally committed to this goal and to encouraging greater U.S. investment in Russia," Stent said.

Graham largely shares this view but thinks that though Obama and Putin will likely express support for deeper commercial ties between our two countries, which will be " a positive signal," business leaders "will still make their decisions based on commercial criteria, and a sharp increase in bilateral trade and investment is unlikely to follow any time soon."

"The other issue is cooperation on counter-terrorism. Since the Boston marathon bombings, Washington and Moscow have stepped up their cooperation on these issues and more needs to be done," Stent reminded.

The USA and Russia are also facing joint work on such a topical issue as cybercrime. At present, they are drawing an agreement on this issue, which might be ready for signing by one of the upcoming summits.

"The United States and Russia face a long and challenging list of issues on which they will have to work together this year: Syria, missile defense, Iran and Afghanistan," Angela Stent said.

The Presidents' upcoming meeting will not produce a breakthrough in relations, nor will it likely produce a clear way forward on overcoming differences on any specific issue, Thomas Graham said by way of conclusion, "but given the recent state of relations, a clear public indication that the Presidents want to continue efforts to find ways to work together on key bilateral and global issues would be welcome step forward, and that in turn could prepare the way for agreement on a substantive agenda when the Presidents next meet in September. "

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