Clinton and Lavrov start afresh in Geneva

The "reset" button presented by Clinton was slightly off message Keystone Archive

Nuclear security and weapons are the top priority for Russia and the United States, the country's two diplomacy chiefs said after meeting in Geneva.

This content was published on March 6, 2009 - 22:25

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged to reset relations in the first formal high-level talks between the two countries since US President Barack Obama took office in January.

The US aims to have a new strategic arms agreement with Russia by the end of this year, when the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) expires, Clinton said.

"We discussed a number of specific issues that we believe are important for us to work together on to make progress. There is no time to waste on a number of these significant challenges so we will begin to work immediately to translate our words into deeds," she said after the working dinner with Lavrov on Friday in the Swiss city.

For his part, Lavrov said that Moscow shared the same international priorities as Washington and that the two countries had undertaken to work in a "frank and open way as partners".

Resetting ties between the United States and Russia would take time, Clinton added, and the relationship needs more trust, predictability, and progress.

Relations between the two powers sank to a post-Cold War low during the Bush administration, and were particularly strained by Russia's military offensive in Georgia last August.

Unity on Iran

While agreeing that there were still differences of opinion between the two sides, Clinton said she hoped to see some unity on the steps the US would take on Iran, which was "discussed at great length".

"This is a fresh start not only to improve our bilateral relationship but to lead the world in important areas," Clinton said.

There was a slight gaffe on the American side when Hilary presented Lavrov with a mock firing button, labelled with the word "reset" and the Russian equivalent. Lavrov pointed out to her that the word "peregruzka" actually meant overcharge.

The US-Russian meeting comes ahead of the G20 financial crisis summit in London on April 2, which will be attended by the two countries' respective presidents, Dmitri Medvedev and Barack Obama.

It was suggested by Russia, which has a close relationship with Geneva. For years the post of director-general of the United Nations in the city has been held by a Russian (currently Sergei Ordzhonikidze).

Swiss counterpart

Earlier on Friday Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey also met the American Secretary of State in Geneva.

Calmy-Rey described the meeting as friendly and fruitful. On the UBS and tax issue, Calmy-Rey said she had indicated to Clinton that Switzerland was ready to study a possible extension of its tax cooperation and would soon make more precise proposals.

"I also said it was not in our common interest for the situation to escalate further as UBS is responsible for 30,000 jobs in the US and the bank's difficulties could weaken the international financial system," said Calmy-Rey

The other topics of common interest raised at the 30-minute meeting included Iran and the South Caucasus, in particular Georgia.

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran and Russian interests in Georgia. As a neutral country, Switzerland has made these "good offices" one of the pillars of its foreign policy.

The pair also talked about Guantanamo and Calmy-Rey confirmed that the Swiss government was ready to study a possible contribution to resolve the problem. "We are currently examining legal and security aspects," she said.

swissinfo with agencies

International Geneva

Geneva is home to the headquarters of 22 international organisations, such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and International Committee of the Red Cross.

The city is the European seat of the United Nations.

"International Geneva", as it is known, is worth around SFr5 billion ($4.3 billion) a year to the canton.

In all around 40,000 international diplomats and civil servants are based in Geneva; in addition there are around 2,400 staff working for non-governmental organisations.

Around 8,500 staff work for the United Nations family in Geneva, which is the largest concentration of UN personnel in the world.

Geneva's international role is not new; following the First World War it became home to the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation.

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