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Solana: 'The button has been reset'

But nuclear talks with Iran will wait until election upheaval is resolved, EU foreign policy chief says.

Barack Obama shares a laugh with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia at the Parallel Business Summit in Moscow, July 7, 2009. (Jim Young/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — The man in charge of European Union foreign policy believes the Obama Administration has succeeded in recasting the U.S. relationship with Russia.

“The button has been reset,” declared Javier Solana, a day after presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to reduce nuclear arsenals and increase coordination and cooperation.

In a wide-ranging interview with GlobalPost, Solana explained that Europe had been watching the events in Moscow very carefully — and with “great enthusiasm.”

“For us, a good relationship between Russia and the United States is fundamental,” said Solana. “And therefore what we’re seeing so far is very positive.”

The progress in clearing up tension between Washington and Moscow will have positive consequences for European-Russian ties as well, he said. Those ties were seriously strained last year when Russia went to war with Georgia, an EU aspirant, and cut off European fuel supplies in the dead of winter due to a dispute with the transit company in Ukraine.

“Let me tell you, sometimes it’s easier to be a strategic partner with Russia than be a neighbor,” said Solana with an ironic smile. “We have to work on both sides, and the United States has to work on one.”

Plus, Europe depends on Russia in a way the U.S. does not. “It’s a reality, we have dependence [on] Russia on gas,” said Solana.

The Spanish physicist and politician said that another key issue of concern to the three allies, is the polarizing debate over missile defense with planned installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. That finally has a chance for resolution, Solana said. He praised Obama’s position on missile defense and his emphasis that the shield would protect “Europe and Russia also and the United States.”

“It has been discussed for years in completely different circumstances than today,” Solana said. “I hope very much that it will be resolved.”

Solana also welcomed the Russian agreement to open transit routes into Afghanistan, allowing the use of Russian airspace — rather than just the previous train routes — to move troops and supplies into Afghanistan.

“This is very important for everybody,” Solana said, emphasizing that all countries should be doing their utmost “to stabilize Afghanistan, in particular at this very moment when elections are going to take place.”

Solana said he will travel to Afghanistan the third week of July, in part to assess the preparations for voting scheduled to take place August 20, and that he will visit Islamabad as well.