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"Reset" endures no matter who is Russia leader: U.S.

Sep 24, 2011, 10:57 a.m.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wave to supporters during the United Russia congress in Moscow September 24, 2011. REUTERS/Yekaterina Shtukina/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House pledged on Saturday to press on with a "reset" of U.S.-Russia relations regardless of who becomes the next Russian president, saying it was not about "individual personalities" but national interests.

"We are quite confident that we can continue to build on the progress made during the Obama administration," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said after Vladimir Putin declared he planned to reclaim Russia's presidency in March elections.

Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made it a foreign policy priority to repair relations with Moscow, which frayed in the final stretch of Putin's presidency when George W. Bush was also nearing the end of his eight-year tenure as U.S. leader.

The "reset" -- as the Obama administration dubbed it -- has yielded a new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty and what Washington sees as improved diplomatic cooperation, including help in pressuring Iran over its nuclear program.

But U.S. missile defense plans and fallout from the 2008 Russia-Georgia war have remained irritants.

"While we have had a very strong working relationship with President Medvedev, it's worth noting that Vladimir Putin was prime minister throughout the reset," Vietor said after Putin's announcement, which ended speculation about whether he or President Dmitry Medvedev would run.

"The reset has always been about national interests and not individual personalities."

As prime minister, Putin has occasionally been stridently critical of U.S. policies. He raised eyebrows in Washington last month when he accused the United States of living beyond its means "like a parasite" on the global economy.

"We will continue to build on the progress of the reset whoever serves as the next president of Russia, because we believe that it is in the mutual interests of the United States and Russia and the world," Vietor said.

Obama has cultivated a relationship with Medvedev and has had less direct dealings with Putin. But U.S. officials have acknowledged privately that Putin was clearly the stronger member of the power "tandem."

U.S.-Russia relations warmed at first under Putin's presidency. He phoned Bush to offer condolences -- followed by support for the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan -- after the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda militants in 2001.

The two developed a close rapport but ties gradually deteriorated. Relations hit what many saw as a post-Cold War low three months after the end of Putin's presidency, when Russia fought a war with pro-Western Georgia.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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