US VP Biden in Moscow for 2 days of meetings

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 11:21 AM
US VP Biden in Moscow for 2 days of meetings

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived Tuesday in Moscow, the centerpiece stop on a three-nation swing through Europe.

Biden two years ago introduced the phrase "push the reset button" to characterize the Obama administration's efforts to improve relations with Russia. The White House says his two days of meetings in Moscow are aimed both at assessing where relations stand midway through President Obama's term and to try for progress on an array of complicated issues.

Top issues on the agenda include the contentious issue of European missile defense and efforts to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization. He will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Russia has sought WTO membership, with varying levels of enthusiasm, for the past decade and a half. Although the country wants to improve its prospects for international trade, it has been leery of dropping some protectionist tariffs. The United States has supported WTO membership for Russia, believing that developing the country's economy will lead to more stability.

Missile defense is a more touchy issue.

After years of opposition, Russia agreed last fall to talk about cooperating with NATO and the United States on an anti-ballistic missile plan for Europe, which the U.S. says may be needed if Iran develops nuclear weapons.

But Moscow has refused to budge from its demand for joint control, and has been keeping up the rhetorical pressure. Last fall, Medvedev said if an agreement on missile defense can't be reached, Russia may deploy new offensive weapons, triggering a new arms race.

Biden arrived following a stop in Helsinki, where he discussed international issues including Afghanistan and northern Africa.

Biden held talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen before a working lunch with Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi.

The U.S. vice president thanked Finland for its peacekeeping role in the Middle East and its current efforts in Afghanistan, where the Nordic country has some 200 soldiers under NATO command.

"We have been standing quite frankly side-by-side in the international assistance force" in Afghanistan, Biden said after brief talks with Halonen.

The Finnish president said the two leaders also discussed northern Africa, but gave no details.

Biden noted that on International Woman's Day, he wanted to pay tribute to the leadership of Finland, where both the president and prime ministers are women.

After leaving Moscow on Friday, Biden is to make a short visit to Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. The White House has said the trip would aim at signaling support for a resolution of the dispute over Moldova's breakaway region of Trans-Dniester. Russia has about 1,500 troops stationed in the separatist region and it was unclear whether Biden would raise the question of their presence with Russian officials.

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Associated Press writer Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki contributed to this report.