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Longterm optimism on Russia from Berger and Khalilzad

One of the themes of today's event is looking beyond the day's headlines to focus on longer-term trends. Along those lines, it was interesting to hear former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and former Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad give surprisingly optimistic takes on the future of U.S.-Russia relations. Here's Berger:

I think you have to separate Putin's posture from his interests. Clearly his posture after the election, and also before the election, was to stick his finger in our eye. That was a way to project strength.

But now he desperately wants the president to come to Moscow. He invited him and was very happy when the president said yes. Putting away the word reset, I don't think the U.S.-Russian relationship is moribund. I think it is in Putin's interest to maintain the relationship.

There are going to be sore spots. He doesn't want NGOs in the Russian political system. He doesn't want us mucking around in democracy and human rights. But I think we'll do business going down the road.

Khalilzad, who also served as ambassador to Afghanistan during the Bush administration, concurred:

The illustration has been the northern corridor into Afghanistan which has been very helpful in resupplying our troops. It's also not out of the question that we will be able to do business with Putin on Syria.

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When crises erupt, should the U.S. turn first to its European partners?

An interesting debate arose during a panel discussion this morning with current and former heads of policy planning at the State Department. When a member of the audience asked why the panelists hadn't mentioned Europe and Latin America -- two regions that are vital to U.S. interests and full of U.S. allies -- Jim Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, noted that Europe is, in many ways, the "dog that didn't bark."

Day to day, he explained, U.S. diplomats are working closely with their European counterparts on all aspects of foreign policy -- not just those that involve Europe. They're our "preferred partner in almost every case," he noted.

Morton Halperin, a former director of policy planning under Bill Clinton, questioned that approach, however. America's reliance on its European allies, he observed, underestimates the importance of other global powers. "Should we not start with Turkey and Indonesia and India rather than with the United Kingdom and France, or at least [start with] both?" he asked.

During the discussion, Steinberg added that America's relationship with Mexico is "our most consequential bilateral relationship in many ways." "We need Mexico to succeed," he added. "It's just as important as China succeeding."

Mexico's President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto visited Washington, D.C. earlier this week, and he seems to agree. "It is a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns," he wrote ahead of his meeting with Obama. "Our mutual interests are too vast and complex to be restricted in this short-sighted way."