updated 6/15/2006 6:13:14 PM ET 2006-06-15T22:13:14

A top U.S. diplomat said Thursday that Moscow and Washington are launching a regular dialogue on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, arms control and other security issues — a signal that the two countries are seeking common ground in an increasingly divisive relationship.

“It’s a bilateral strategic dialogue on a wide range of issues that are important to both of us,” Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph said at the end of a one-day visit to Moscow.

Joseph said he and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak had set the groundwork for a permanent communications channel on security issues.

“This is a dialogue that both sides want basically to re-establish,” Joseph said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve always continued to have discussions on these issues, obviously, but to have a dedicated channel is, I think, something that both countries would value.”

Joseph’s visit came amid a chilly period in Russian-American relations, with the Bush administration protesting what it said was the Kremlin’s backsliding on democracy and human rights and Moscow complaining that Washington was dragging its feet over World Trade Organization membership talks.

Moscow has also objected to what it views as increasing U.S. and NATO encroachment on former Soviet territory and, albeit in veiled terms, Washington’s alleged role in fomenting the uprisings that brought long-entrenched regimes to an end in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Bush expected to visit Russia
President Bush is expected to pay a working visit to Russia ahead of next month’s Group of Eight summit, which President Vladimir Putin is hosting in St. Petersburg.

Joseph’s talks in Moscow focused on preparations for the summit and touched on the Iranian nuclear crisis — another issue that has caused tension between the U.S. and Russia, although both nations are engaged in a joint effort to persuade Tehran to resume its moratorium on uranium enrichment. Joseph said he had reiterated Washington’s opposition to planned Russian conventional arms sales to Iran.

“We have made clear and I made clear again the U.S. position ... that Russia should not sell arms to Iran and we have been opposed and we’ve made this known publicly, for example, to the sale of advanced air defense capabilities to Iran,” Joseph said.

He suggested that continued Iranian intransigence could force Russia to rethink its position on those sales.

Envoy: Tehran likely to respond to new overtures
“I think that in the coming weeks we’ll see what Iran’s decision is with regard to the very generous package that has been presented,” Joseph said, referring to the incentives offered to Tehran last week to resume the moratorium. “If it is rejected ... then I think that there may be a significant change that will have to be taken into account in how all nations deal with Iran.”

He said Russia and China had sent a strong message to Iran to stop its enrichment-related activities, and said both had helped present a united front. But some diplomats have said that China, Russia and possibly Germany might push to allow Iran some tightly controlled and small-scale enrichment rather than see talks founder, and Russia and China have balked at calling for sanctions.

Joseph skirted the question of whether the U.S. was satisfied with the role Moscow has played in efforts to defuse the Iranian crisis.

“I’m satisfied with where we are today on this issue, in terms of making this choice clear to Iran,” he said.

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