MOSCOW -- Russia's defense and foreign ministers will meet their U.S. counterparts to discuss sensitive strategic issues before an expected presidential meeting on April 2, a Russian official was quoted as saying on Friday.
New President Barack Obama is expected to meet Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev for the first time on the sidelines of a London summit of 20 leading nations called to discuss ways to fight the economic crisis and global financial reforms.
Medvedev has expressed hope that the Obama administration will help improve U.S.-Russian ties, which dived to post-Cold War lows over a series of major disagreements, including the expansion of Washington's missile defense system.
"Of course, the ministers of foreign affairs and of defense, Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov, and their American colleagues ... will discuss cooperation in this trusted format before the G20 summit in London," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
Ryabkov did not specify when or where talks in the so-called "2+2" format would take place. It will be the first meeting bringing together Lavrov and Serdyukov with new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed by Obama this month.
Robert Gates, who was Defense Secretary under the previous President George W. Bush and kept it in Obama's administration, has already taken part in "2+2" talks.
Washington's plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in eastern Europe are viewed by Russia as a direct threat to its security. One of the most painful problems in bilateral ties, it has dominated previous "2+2" talks.
Medvedev has threatened to deploy Russian missiles close to NATO borders if Washington goes ahead with its missile defense plans.
However, he later said initial signals from the Obama camp showed the new U.S. leader was planning to reconsider missile shield plans. In a conciliatory gesture, Medvedev has promised that Russia will not be the first to deploy missiles.
On Wednesday, Interfax news agency reported that Moscow had halted plans to deploy missiles near the border of NATO member Poland.
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved