Cablegate: Codel Nelson-Lott Meets with Fm Lavrov

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1. (SBU) Summary: U.S.-Russian Senate-Federation Council
Interparliamentary Working Group Co-Chairs Senator Ben Nelson
and Senator Trent Lott, accompanied by Senators Evan Bayh,
Judd Gregg, and Richard Burr, met May 29 with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss current bilateral and
multilateral issues. Lavrov highlighted cooperative elements
in the bilateral relationship -- nonproliferation,
counterterrorism, and civilian nuclear energy -- but outlined
strong differences on missile defense, Kosovo, and CFE.
Lavrov cautioned against "megaphone" diplomacy in the run-up
to elections in both countries. End Summary.
U.S.-Russian Relations

3. (SBU) Senator Nelson underlined that the U.S. wanted a
strong bilateral partnership with Russia. FM Lavrov stressed
the role that bilateral relations had on global stability and
noted mutual interests in tackling new threats. Lavrov said
Presidents Bush and Putin had established a high level of
trust and there were many areas where the U.S. and Russia
cooperated effectively, including on nuclear
nonproliferation, the development of civilian nuclear power,
and counterterrorism. Productive efforts in these areas did
not garner the same attention that differences did, but
neither side should lose sight of the benefits of a healthy

4. (SBU) At the same time, Lavrov added, neither side could
honestly state they were satisfied with the current state of
bilateral ties. Both countries should avoid holding the
relationship hostage to electoral cycles. Both needed to pay
careful attention to questions of tone and to avoid public
comments that added fuel to disagreements. Russia was ready
for "sincere" discussions, but "megaphone" diplomacy and
scoring points in the press detracted from trying to find
common solutions. Lavrov said we have enough serious
problems to address without adding to our burdens. On North
Korea, the Middle East, and Iran, we were working well
together, while on Kosovo, missile defense and CFE, we
disagreed in principle on the correct approach or we had
sharply different views of the situation. On frozen
conflicts, Russia believed the West too often aimed at making
immediate gains to the detriment of long-term solutions.

5. (SBU) Responding to Senator Lott's call for finding
areas where the U.S. and Russia could work together, Lavrov
said that there was much productive work that drew little
media attention. In a fast-changing, increasingly multipolar
world dominated by Asia's rise, the U.S. and Russia should be
partners across the board, but partnership would require
respect for each state's key interests and the maintenance of
a strategic balance.
Missile Defense

6. (SBU) Acknowledging Russian complaints about U.S. plans
to place MD sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, Senator
Nelson pressed Lavrov on the implications of Russian
objections to the planned deployments. Lavrov responded by
challenging the validity of the threats that the U.S. cited
in justifying MD. On DPRK, Lavrov asserted that the
resolution of the Korean nuclear issue was on the right track
and that the Six Party Talks were likely to lead to a
resolution that would allow the nuclear arms file to be
closed. At the same time, the U.S. was already deploying
interceptors to address this threat. On Iran, Russia had
concluded that Tehran was not likely to be capable of
launching an attack on Europe, much less the U.S., for many
years, perhaps decades. Iran was not close to building a
nuclear warhead and lacked the capability of building a long
range ballistic missile capable of hitting Europe.

7. (SBU) Lavrov also challenged the U.S. rationale for
placing the MD interceptors in Poland, arguing that putting
them in southern Europe made more sense if they were really
designed to address an Iranian threat. The interceptors in
Poland could be replaced with ballistic missiles with MIRV'ed
warheads in silos that could accommodate more than one
missile. Moscow saw this possible development as part of
U.S. efforts to develop a global MD system tying together
interceptor bases in Alaska, radar sites in the UK, Greenland
and the Pacific, and fleet-based maritime MD systems in the
Mediterranean. From the Russian General Staff's perspective,
this looked like a system that surrounded Russia (and China
as well). Intentions could change, and the U.S. was busy
creating facts on the ground that were creating a perception
that it could be seeking a disarming, first strike
capability. The Russian leadership had an obligation to take
precautions to prevent a shift in the strategic balance that

MOSCOW 00002590 002 OF 003

underpinned Russian security and global stability.

8. (SBU) Lavrov stressed that in the absence of a credible
threat from Iran for many years, Russia had serious concerns
about why the U.S. was seeking to put into place an MD system
now in Europe. Russia, not Iran, would be the state most
threatened by such a system. The U.S. had been sending mixed
signals on MD for several years. Early on during the Bush
Administration, the U.S. had offered to work together with
Russia on technology, but that interest waned. If the U.S.
were really interested in MD cooperation, it would first work
with Russia to develop a joint threat analysis. The U.S. and
Russia "should start from scratch," and not present Russia
with a fait accompli.

9. (SBU) Senator Lott said he was surprised that Moscow had
judged that the MD system was designed to threaten Russia and
said that such misperceptions underlined the need for closer
cooperation. We need to identify disagreements and find room
for cooperation. Senator Bayh noted that there were
differences within the USG on MD plans, but he stressed there
was absolutely no intention on the part of the U.S. to
threaten the U.S.-Russia strategic balance. MD plans were to
address a threat from Iran. If there were only a 10 percent
chance that Tehran would be able to develop the capacity to
launch a nuclear-armed missile at Europe or the U.S., then
the U.S. needed to do something to address that threat.

10. (SBU) Turning to Iran, Lavrov provided the MFA's
assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. Moscow judged
that Iran was committed to developing a complete nuclear fuel
cycle, but stressed there was no proof that Tehran had
enriched uranium to weapons grade or had an intention to do
so in the immediate future. Lavrov acknowledged that the
IAEA was seeking clarification from Tehran on documentation
that contained schematics for a nuclear warhead and that Iran
had so far refused to comply. Russia was seriously concerned
about the direction of Iran's program; this had prompted
Russia to work with the P-5 Plus One and in the UN Security
Council to develop a step-by-step approach to address Iran's

11. (SBU) Senator Lott raised the issue of Kosovo's status,
noting Lavrov's opening comment that the U.S. and Russia
differed not only on tactics, but on ultimate goals. Lott
emphasized that Kosovo's independence had to be handled
carefully and with appropriate safeguards for minority
rights. Lavrov asked rhetorically, "why the rush?" Lavrov
argued that everyone knew that Serbia would pursue membership
in the EU and NATO and would need to resolve the Kosovo
problem as part of those processes. In the meantime, Kosovo
had de facto independence. Lavrov said that Serbia's
European future would make it easier to swallow its "national
humiliation." Threats of violence on the part of Kosovars
could not justify independence; KFOR had been established and
empowered to handle threats to civil order.

12. (SBU) Lavrov said Russia advocated a more cautious
approach that would build consensus. Whether the U.S. and
Europe accepted it or not, the "imposition" of a settlement
on Serbia would create a precedent that many other national
groups would pursue. Russia would face serious pressures to
recognize and protect Abkhazians and South Ossetians if
Kosovo gained its independence and this would create further
turmoil in Russia's North Caucasus. The current process in
the UN Security Council was putting Russia into "an
impossible position" of accepting Kosovar independence based
on the principle of self-determination while denying
independence to others who made the same arguments. Senator
Lott noted that the subject of Kosovo had been raised during
a May 29 phone call between Presidents Bush and Putin. He
stressed that the Ahtisaari process had been deliberate.

13. (SBU) Senator Burr emphasized the importance of ongoing
counterterrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. He
noted and Lavrov agreed that changing demographic patterns in
the U.S., Russia and Europe would complicate how we handle
counterterrorism problems.

MOSCOW 00002590 003 OF 003

14. (SBU) Lavrov raised repeal of Jackson-Vanik
legislation, noting that once Russia acceded to WTO, Moscow
would be entitled to deny to U.S. firms the benefits that the
U.S. had negotiated with Russia if the legislation was not
repealed. Senator Gregg touched on the history surrounding
attempts to repeal the statute; Lavrov pointed out that
Jackson-Vanik was no longer a "legacy" issue, but could have
real world effects.
Nuclear and Post-START

15. (SBU) Lavrov highlighted productive bilateral
discussions on nonproliferation and developing civilian
nuclear energy through the Presidential Initiative. Russia
and the U.S. needed to work together to strengthen the
international legal framework for nonproliferation without
reopening the Nonproliferation Treaty. The two countries
also needed to look at a follow-up to the START Treaty and
discuss what mechanisms were realistic. Lavrov noted that
this year's commemoration of the 200th anniversary of
bilateral ties gave us an opportunity to take stock of where
the relationship was headed.

16. (U) CODEL Nelson-Lott has cleared this message.

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