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Russia is cautiously optimistic over the meeting
Russia is cautiously optimistic over the meeting to be held on Friday between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

"We are waiting with cautious optimism the outcome of these talks," the ministry's information and press department said in a statement.

"We expect good results," the ministry said. "This is a preparation for the meeting between the presidents of Russia and the U.S. in London in early April."

Clinton will arrive from Brussels, where she attended an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers. Lavrov will meet her for a working dinner, and the following day will address the Conference on Disarmament in the Swiss city.

The first bilateral meeting between Lavrov and Clinton is seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington, which have been strained over a host of issues, including U.S. plans to deploy missile shield elements in Central Europe.

"There are issues on which the sides' positions are close or the same, including on Afghanistan... We need to try to bring our positions closer together on such issues as the reduction of strategic offensive arms and NATO's expansion to the East," the ministry said.

The Strategic Arms Reduction (START-1) Treaty signed between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1991 expires on December 5, 2009. Russia has repeatedly stated that the signing of a new nuclear disarmament deal will only be possible if Washington abandons its plans to place elements of a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe.

In Brussels, Clinton said it was time for a "fresh start" with Russia, and called for ways to be found to "manage differences" with Moscow. On Thursday, Clinton said that at the meeting with Lavrov, she planned to raise the issue of Moscow's discussions with Iran on the sale of long-range missiles.

Earlier this week, U.S. media cited White House sources saying the Barack Obama administration was offering to back down on the missile shield plans in exchange for Russia's cooperation in preventing Iran from building long-range nuclear missiles.

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