Russia was sounding conciliatory during a Washington visit as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised the Obama administration for what he called its pragmatic approach to relations. President Barack Obama also spoke encouragingly Thursday of signs that ties were warming, after he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Lavrov. "We have an excellent opportunity to reset the relationship between the United States and Russia on a whole host of issues," Obama told reporters after the meeting. Those issues, he said, include nuclear proliferation, the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflicts in Iraq and the Middle East, and the worldwide economy. During an event later at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Lavrov blamed the former Bush administration for the recent poor relations. "We appreciate the sincere desire of the new US administration to develop a constructive bilateral relationship," he said. Clinton and Lavrov said earlier that recent differences over Georgia will not stand in the way of arms control negotiations. In a cordial appearance during Lavrov's first visit to Washington during the Obama administration, the officials expressed optimism that their countries were easing disagreements that have roiled relations in recent years. Lavrov said through an interpreter that reducing nuclear arsenals was "too important both for Russia and the United States and the rest of the world to hold hostage." However, the meeting came as tensions flared over NATO exercises in Georgia. Ahead of his arrival in Washington, Lavrov canceled a May 19 meeting at NATO to protest the exercises. On Wednesday, Russia announced the expulsion of two Moscow-based NATO officials in a tit-for-tat move after NATO revoked two Russian envoys' accreditation to alliance headquarters in Brussels. NATO did not give a reason for the April 30 revocations, but Russia suggested the move was tied to a February espionage scandal in which Moscow was accused of accepting NATO secrets from a spy. Other disagreements that emerged under the Bush administration also remain. Washington and Moscow appear divided on how to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, for instance. On Thursday, with Clinton, Lavrov repeated Russia's opposition to EU and US sanctions against Iran, insisting that actions should be coordinated at the United Nations in the Security Council. And while the United States has put its contentious missile defense plans in Europe under review, that disagreement has not been resolved. Lavrov said the two sides continue to discuss Russian proposals for cooperation and compromise on missile defense. The Obama administration wants to emphasize topics the two sides might agree on: new arms control and nonproliferation talks. "It is, I think, old thinking to say that we have a disagreement in one area, therefore we shouldn't work on something else that is of overwhelming importance," Clinton said. "That's just not how we think." US and Russian officials have recently begun negotiating to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires at year's end. Those talks were launched after the first face-to-face meeting between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month. The two leaders appeared to set a new tone in relations, promising cooperation on a host of issues. The Obama administration's attempt to engage Moscow marks a break from the Bush administration, which did not like extensive arms control negotiations and angered Moscow with its intention to install the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. "All in all, our relations have become more pragmatic," Lavrov said at Carnegie. "This is a trademark of both our leaders, who above all want specific results."