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    Berlusconi urges Obama to focus on improving ties with Russia

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    Italy's prime minister urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday to focus on improving ties with Russia, Italian media reported.

    ROME, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - Italy's prime minister urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday to focus on improving ties with Russia, Italian media reported.

    Silvio Berlusconi, who developed strong personal ties with Russia's former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said Russia and the United States must have only friendly relations. He offered his help in restoring the ties that have plunged to a Cold War low over a host of issues in recent years.

    "Obama can rely on my absolute support. My government is prepared to provide utter support to the Obama administration," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Apcom agency.

    "Obama is in a difficult situation. He will face a host of domestic and foreign policy problems, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. But I believe the best possible advice he can receive is to end the current standoff between his country and Russia," ANSA quoted Berlusconi as saying.

    The Italian prime minister was outspoken in his defense of Russian policies under Putin. He also offered strong support for the then-president when Putin pushed for closer ties with Europe, saying he welcomed the eventual removal of visa requirements for travelers between Russia and the European Union and suggesting Russia could one day join the EU.

    Relations between Moscow and Washington have been strained most recently over the latter's plans to place missile defenses in Central Europe, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and a brief conflict in August between Russia and U.S. ally Georgia over breakaway South Ossetia.

    Democrat Obama, who will be the first African American U.S. president, has pledged to listen more to the country's traditional European allies, and pursue diplomatic options in dealing with Iran and other "rogue" states.

    He also opposed his Republican rival John McCain's call for Russia to be ousted from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations after its war with Georgia in August, but condemned Russia's use of force against the Caucasus state.

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