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Putin says ready to "go far" in U.S. relations: Ifax

Russia's Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin talks to the media at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow May 3, 2012. REU
Russia's Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin talks to the media at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow May 3, 2012. REU

By Gleb Bryanski

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin is ready to go far in developing ties between Russia and the United States provided the relationship is equal, Interfax news agency quoted Putin's foreign policy aide as saying on Saturday.

Putin discussed bilateral relations at a closed-door meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama's top security aide Tom Donilon at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Friday, three days before his inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin.

"Putin emphasized that in developing the relationship with the United States, Russia is ready to go really far, on condition that the Americans will act on the principles of an equal and mutually respectful partnership," Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying.

Ushakov said Donilon handed Putin a letter from Obama, calling it "a multi-page detailed document, whose main message is that Obama is ready to cooperate with Putin in order to move forward on the path of the creation of partnership between the United States and Russia".

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov and the U.S. embassy in Russia declined to comment on the meeting.

Putin plans to make his first foreign visit as president later this month to the United States where he will take part in the G8 leaders' summit as well as meet Obama. Putin's second major foreign visit will be to China at the start of June.

Putin, who tried to keep a low profile in foreign policy issues during his stint as prime minister, last met Obama for a caviar breakfast at Novo-Ogaryovo in July 2009.

Obama made "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia one of his top foreign policy priorities. He had a good working relationship with departing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who will now become prime minister.

As prime minister, Putin has held regular meetings with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an architect of the Cold War policy of detente towards the Soviet Union.

Putin extensively used anti-American rhetoric in the run-up to March 4 presidential election accusing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of stirring protests against his 12-year rule by encouraging "mercenary" Kremlin foes.

The two former Cold War foes still differ over issues including the Syrian crisis and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. Many observers believe the relationship may deteriorate during Putin's six-year presidency.

A top Russian general warned this week that Moscow could carry out pre-emptive strikes on future NATO missile defense installations. NATO called such threats "unjustified" and said the system posed no threat to Russia's security.

Obama was caught on camera in March telling Medvedev that he will have "more flexibility" to deal with contentious issues such as missile defense after the U.S. presidential election in November.

Obama, who holds his first political rallies of the 2012 campaign on Saturday, has been criticized by opponents for being too soft on Russia and is likely to step up criticism ahead of the election.

(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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