Medvedev tells Obama: prevent Libyan civilian deaths

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Thursday the deaths of Libyan civilians during western military intervention must be prevented, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The president especially noted the necessity of preventing victims among the civilian population,” the statement said, relaying the details from a telephone conversation between the two leaders.

Russia backed United Nations sanctions against Gaddafi and his government earlier this month but abstained in the Security Council vote last week that authorized a no-fly zone, allowing armed intervention by a Western coalition.

In Washington, the Obama administration said Obama had expressed his appreciation for Russia’s support for the U.N. sanctions and positive statements Medvedev has made about the resolution’s mandate.

Medvedev told U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week Russia was concerned over possible civilian casualties in what he called the “indiscriminate” use of force in Libya, the Kremlin said.

The two leaders also discussed Russia’s troubled bid to join the World Trade Organization as well as the problems of missile defense in Europe during the phone call, the statement said.

The White House said Obama and Medvedev discussed new momentum in Russia’s progress toward joining the WTO and said Obama had affirmed his support for Russia’s accession this year, and his commitment to working with Congress to establish Permanent Normalized Trade Relations with Russia.

Gaddafi has accused Western forces of killing dozens of civilians, but his officials have not shown reporters in Tripoli any evidence of such killings. U.S. officials say they have no evidence Western bombs have killed any civilians.

Both leaders have worked to “reset” ties between the once-Cold War foes, an effort crowned by the New START nuclear arms pact’s entry into force last month.

Russia’s chief negotiator on the nuclear arms treaty with the United States has outlined tough conditions for further reductions, stressing Moscow’s demand for an equal say in creating a European missile shield, which Moscow worries could weaken its offensive arsenal and upset the balance of power.

The White House said the presidents had discussed recent progress on deeper cooperation on missile defense and that Obama had affirmed that Washington believes cooperating with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, Russia and their allies.

The two presidents agreed to meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in France in May.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove in Moscow, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Janet Lawrence in London and Todd Eastham in Washington)

Medvedev tells Obama: prevent Libyan civilian deaths