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Russian foreign minister to meet with Obama in Washington


WASHINGTON, May 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, a White House press release said.

The meeting comes as controversial NATO exercises in Georgia started and amid tit-for-tat expulsions of Canadian and Russian NATO envoys over a spy scandal involving the imprisonment of an Estonian official.

Lavrov is in Washington to discuss Obama's upcoming visit to Moscow, scheduled for July, and arms reduction talks. Since coming to office, Obama has pledged to improve ties with Russia that were strained during the presidency of George W. Bush.

No indication has been given on the agenda for the meeting.

The Western military alliance last week withdrew the accreditation of two Russian diplomats at NATO headquarters in Brussels. In retaliation Russia expelled two Canadian NATO officials.

Talking about NATO relations following the expulsions on Wednesday Lavrov said, "Our fundamental position is that we want a normal partnership with the North Atlantic alliance, based on mutual respect and mutual benefit."

Russia also announced it was withdrawing from a planned Russia-NATO Council meeting later this month.

The latest flare came this week as Georgia was hit by a military mutiny hours before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began a month-long 1,100-soldier exercise in the country. The maneuvers are strongly opposed by Moscow.

Tbilisi's pro-Western government has accused Russia of being behind the mutiny and a series of protests to oust Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

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