CANNES, France — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's move to the White House is a chance for a fresh start between the two powerful, nuclear-armed nations, whose ties have deteriorated over the past decade.
"We are ready to develop really good-neighborly relations with the U.S.," Medvedev told business leaders in Cannes, France. "I'm very glad the president-elect looks at these problems ... as a priority for U.S. foreign policy."
"For us, relations with the U.S. are a foreign policy priority, too ... given the special role and mission of our two countries," Medvedev said.
"The new administration will have the chance, if not to start with a totally clean slate, then at least to look at the issues without prejudice," he said.
Last week, as congratulations poured in to Obama from around the world on his election victory, Medvedev gave a stern warning about U.S. plans to base missile defense units in Eastern Europe, saying Russia would react by basing short-range missiles in the western territory of Kaliningrad.
Medvedev and other Kremlin officials have backed off slightly since then, however. In an interview with French journalists broadcast Thursday, Medvedev again suggested that if Washington halts its plans, Moscow would do the same.
Medvedev said he had had a good telephone conversation with Obama last week and that the two men had agreed they should meet face-to-face as soon as possible.
"I hope... we'll be able to find a way out of these (difficult) situations, which we haven't been able to do with our current colleagues," he said in the televised interview.
"The new president has a big reserve of good will. He was elected during a very difficult period. I wish him success in dealing with what lies before him," he said.
Dealing with a resurgent Russia will be one of Obama's many challenges. U.S.-Russian relations have gone up and down this decade, but mostly down. The U.S. plans for the missile shield, Kremlin pressure on its domestic opponents and on its neighbors and the war in Chechnya fed the tensions.
Then the war in August between Russia and neighboring Georgia, a small but strategic U.S. ally in an oil-rich region, has only made matters worse.
Medvedev appeared eager Thursday to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, and argued against any "pauses" in U.S.-Russian communication.
"Russia isn't the old USSR and that's why the chances are large for building full partnership," Medvedev said in Cannes.
Medvedev was questioned by Russian and European business leaders in the southern French city about his similarities with Obama, with one questioner calling both men "young, attractive lawyers." Medvedev smiled and said "Thank you, from me and Obama."
Medvedev was in France chiefly for a key summit with the European Union on Friday. After that, he heads to Washington for a summit of world leaders who plan to discuss the global economic crisis.
Medvedev said a new system of global financial regulation was needed and he said it should consider all countries' interests, not just those of the "most powerful or the biggest."
Russia has repeatedly called for a sweeping overhaul of financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
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