- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

MOSCOW | President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday signed a framework for reducing nuclear weapons but put off the thornier issue of U.S. missile defense plans, as both leaders said they have re-established a partnership that Mr. Obama said had seen a “sense of drift” recently.

The two presidents also agreed to allow U.S. troops and their equipment to fly over Russia en route to Afghanistan, and Mr. Obama proposed a worldwide summit on nuclear security intended to keep nuclear material from falling into terrorist hands.

“We have found, I think, an ability to work together extremely effectively. So yes, I trust President Medvedev to not only listen and to negotiate constructively, but also to follow through,” Mr. Obama said at a joint news conference with Mr. Medvedev.

In their first extended meeting, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev seemed at ease, even chatting as their deputies signed agreements on military cooperation and other civil affairs. At one point, Mr. Obama appeared to be asking Mr. Medvedev about the Kremlin’s stunning decorated St. Andrews Hall, the former czar throne room and site of Mr. Medvedev’s inauguration, where the two men faced the press.

During the question-and-answer session, an American reporter asked Mr. Obama whether he knew who really holds power in Russia: Mr. Medvedev or Mr. Putin, the prime minister. Mr. Medvedev smiled at the question, and Mr. Obama said that while he does plan to meet Tuesday with Mr. Putin, his counterpart as leader is Mr. Medvedev.

Some analysts have said Mr. Obama is erring by not spending more time with Mr. Putin than their brief meeting, but others say Mr. Obama’s schedule shows he is trying to boost Mr. Medvedev’s fortunes.

In terms of accomplishments, Mr. Obama said they would complete the binding nuclear arms reduction treaty by the end of this year that would reduce nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from about 2,200, and lower the number of missiles capable of delivering warheads to between 500 and 1,100, down from 1,600, within seven years - the lowest agreed-to limits in the two nations’ dealings.

The effort is intended to replace the landmark START I nuclear arms reduction treaty, which expires Dec. 5.

Mr. Obama said the two nations’ agreement on Afghanistan would help U.S. troops and weapons reach the battle zone, thanking Mr. Medvedev for the agreement.

The agreement covers 4,500 flights, and Russia agreed to pick up the tab for the navigation costs, which would be paid while the flights are in Russian airspace. The savings to the United States come to about $133 million.

But the two men acknowledged differences, particularly on missile defense. The George W. Bush administration proposed a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, and the Obama administration is still considering the move - something that is anathema to Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin.

As a concession, Mr. Obama agreed that defensive systems must be linked with discussions on offensive nuclear arms, but said the U.S. plans for a defense system are aimed at nations such as Iran and North Korea, not at Russia, which he said would retain more than enough weapons to have a credible deterrent capability.

The Russians saw the inclusion of missile defense in talks as a major step.

“Linkage is being stated and this opens up the opportunity of bringing positions closer,” Mr. Medvedev said.

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