MOSCOW — President Barack Obama wants to ease diplomatic tensions with Moscow and had a letter hand delivered to President Vladimir Putin to propose new ways to cooperate, Russian officials said Monday.
Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, met with Putin and other officials and presented the letter in an effort to improve relations, which have nosedived in recent months.
Despite Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Russia during his first term, ties worsened over differences on the U.S.-led missile defense plans, conflicting approaches to the Syrian crisis and U.S. concerns about the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent.
More recently, Washington's decision to sanction Russian officials accused of rights violations saw Moscow retaliate by banning U.S. adoption of Russian children. On Friday, the U.S. released a list of 18 Russians targeted for sanctions and Moscow responded over the weekend with a list of 18 Americans.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Donilon had signaled on Monday that Washington was willing to address these issues and focus on cooperating on global problems, such as armed conflict.
According to Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, Obama's letter was "quite constructive" and contained specific proposals regarding arms control and economic cooperation.
In return, Putin expressed his readiness to support the "positive signals" coming from Washington, Ushakov said.
The tensions around North Korea were also discussed. Ushakov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies that Moscow is "ready for active cooperation with the Americans on this problem."
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement that Donilon's discussions in Moscow were "comprehensive and constructive." She said they covered the full range of bilateral and global issues in preparation for Obama's meeting with Putin at the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland in June.
Putin has relished in anti-American rhetoric, particularly while he was campaigning for a third presidential term in last March's election. He has accused the U.S. State Department of fomenting massive protests in Moscow against his rule.
Tensions reached a new peak with the passage of a U.S. law named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison after being arrested by police officials whom he accused of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. The law prohibits the officials from entering the U.S. and imposes banking sanctions on them.