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Obama sends 'constructive' message to Putin amid tensions

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

President Barack Obama's national security advisor on Monday handed a "constructive" message from the US leader to Russian President Vladimir Putin, days after the former foes exchanged Cold War-style blacklists in a row over human rights.

The Kremlin praised the note, personally handed over in Moscow by White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Putin, as containing new ideas and said it included proposals about nuclear arsenals.

Donilon, the highest-ranking American to visit Russia since Obama's inauguration for a second term in January, walked into a vicious diplomatic storm in Moscow that whipped up over the weekend.

The United States on Friday published a list of 18 Russians it was blacklisting over human rights abuses. Russia a day later angrily responded with a similar list of its own in a tit-for-tat move.

But Putin joined Donilon's talks with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev at the Kremlin, a move that the Kremlin had kept under wraps until the last moment in a apparent bid to remind Washington of its displeasure.

The Kremlin confirmed Donilon handed over Obama's message, which Putin's foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said contained proposals on nuclear weapons arsenals, missile defence and improving bilateral trade.

"The message is written in a very constructive tone," he said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

"Some ideas have already been talked about but there are some new elements which our country will study in the most attentive way and give a corresponding response," he added, without specifying further on the contents of the message.

Ushakov said the events of the past days showed that while the Obama administration "wants to actively develop relations in many areas", the United States "still has some Russophobes who want to throw a spanner in the works."

Donilon held a morning meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said that the American side had emphasised they did not want the "irritations" to spoil the strategic nature of US-Russia relations.

The US lists 16 Russians allegedly linked to the death of jailed lawyer Sergei Magntisky in 2009 as well as two Chechens who stand accused of murder. They are barred from travelling to the US or holding assets there.

Russia slammed the move as unfriendly and a day later hit back with its own blacklist of 18 Americans, including several well-known figures linked to detention practices at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

"The first person to feel the effects of Washington's blacklists is going to be T. Donilon. He is not coming to us at the best of times," the head of the Russian lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter.

Even before the blacklist row, the visit was seen as having huge importance as Obama looks for new bilateral nuclear weapons cuts and support from Russia in the North Korea crisis.

The US blacklist stems from the Magnitsky Act which Washington passed last year, infuriating Russia. Moscow responded by banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans, a move that caused an international outcry.

The death of Magnitsky in pre-trial detention in 2009 at the age of 37 -- after being accused of a fraud scam that he claimed to have uncovered -- has come to symbolise the Kremlin's failure to protect human rights.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the ITAR-TASS news agency at the weekend that the Russian blacklist also includes a secret section with more names, similar to a list of more highly placed Russian officials compiled by Washington.

According to The New York Times, the classified US list includes more senior figures who include the controversial Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and its publication would have caused an even greater row.

"Whether I am on the list -- and I do not know if I am or not -- makes no difference for me. I've never been to America and never plan to," Kadyrov said in a statement.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130415/obama-sends-constructive-message-putin-amid-tensions