The United States will support Russia's crisis mediation efforts in Libya provided embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi steps down, President Barack Obama told his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Monday.
Obama spoke with Medvedev to "discuss a range of bilateral and international issues and to express his condolences on the tragic sinking of the MS Bulgaria," the White House said in a statement. Sunday's tragedy on the Volga River claimed dozens of lives, and Russia is holding a day of mourning for the victims on Tuesday.
In a phone conversation with Medvedev, Obama emphasized Washington "is prepared to support negotiations that lead to a democratic transition in Libya as long as Gaddafi steps aside," the White House said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Washington early on Tuesday (Moscow time) for talks with Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a meeting of the Quartet of international mediators of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Russia abstained from a vote on a UN Security Council resolution in March authorizing military action against Gaddafi's regime, which opened the way for an international military operation in Libya.
Moscow has repeatedly criticized NATO for going beyond the bounds of the resolution and bombing "civilian facilities" in Libya, including Gaddafi's compounds in Tripoli. The alliance has denied that its airstrikes are targeting the Libyan leader, saying that his compounds are used as command centers for attacks against civilians.
Russia has also warned the alliance against siding with rebels following reports about arms supplies to Libyan insurgents by some of the NATO members involved in the operation, particularly France.
Lavrov said last week that the military conflict in Libya had reached a stalemate and that the cost of the conflict in human terms was "high."
Russia has advocated the African Union's leading role in mediating talks between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces, while Medvedev has also sent his envoy Mikhail Margelov to Libya to discuss ways out of the crisis with both Gaddafi and representatives of the rebel National Transitional Council.
Last week, Medvedev discussed the situation in Libya with South African President Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.
During their phone conversation, Medvedev and Obama also discussed the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, as well as the situation in Sudan and Afghanistan.
"President Obama also expressed his support for President Medvedev's mediation efforts regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, and pledged American support for the effort to reach a framework agreement for negotiating a final peace agreement that will put an end to this conflict," the White House said.
Nagorny Karabakh, a breakaway region on Azerbaijani territory with a predominantly ethnic Armenian population, has been at the center of a bitter conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the late 1980s, when the region claimed independence from Azerbaijan to join Armenia.
The two presidents also "agreed to press to finish all aspects" of Russia's accession to the WTO "as soon as possible." Medvedev said in late June that Russia, which has been negotiating its entry into the WTO for 17 years, may join the global trade club by the end of this year.