- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

Over the next week, President Obama will be trying to put to bed the Cold War in Russia, rewrite the rules for international finance in Italy and reassure developing countries they retain his attention in Ghana.

Three countries, three very different audiences.

Mr. Obama will try to set a framework with Russia for nuclear arms reductions and seek Russian help in negotiating with Iran and North Korea, meet in Italy with leaders of about 40 countries to talk about finances, global warming and food security, and cap it off with a speech in Ghana delineating how developing countries fit into geopolitics.

Along the way, he will pack in meetings with Pope Benedict XVI and Chinese President Hu Jintao and deliver speeches in Moscow and Accra, Ghana - the final two addresses in a four-piece series that began with an April speech in Prague on nuclear disarmament and continued with the one to the Muslim world from Cairo last month, according to the White House.

These two new speeches will challenge Russia to change its view of the role of a great power on the world stage and will outline democracy and development goals for the developing world, the White House said.

The problem, however, is that he may return with little to show for the efforts.

“I think as long as we keep our expectations low about this summit meeting, then we’re less likely to be disappointed about what’s about to transpire,” said Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in previewing the Moscow summit.

Since taking office, Mr. Obama has talked about resetting U.S.-Russian relations, and he will be under the gun from the moment he lands in Russia on Monday. His challenge was summed up by this week’s cover of the Economist magazine, which showed a smiling and waving Mr. Obama stepping into the jaws of a giant bear.

He faces a situation in which the man with whom he will do most of his negotiating, President Dmitry Medvedev, is not clearly the man in control. That man appears to be the former president, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with whom Mr. Obama has just a short meeting.

Mr. Obama in a recent interview said Mr. Putin seemed to still have a Cold War mentality, and the White House says the goal is to break Russian leaders of the view that they have to compete with the United States on the international stage.

“If you look at Russian public opinion, what Russian elites say - and even some of their leaders - they think of the world in zero-sum terms. The United States is considered an adversary,” said Dennis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “They think that our No. 1 objective in the world is to make Russia weaker.”

The centerpiece of official negotiations will be a nuclear arms reduction treaty, a follow-up to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) finalized in 1991. Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev are expected to agree to a framework that they hope will lead to a final agreement by the end of the year, when START expires.

The negotiations revolve around the number of nuclear warheads that should be allowed, the ways to verify compliance and the side concessions that will be required. For example, Russia is keen to see the United States forgo plans for a missile-defense site in Eastern Europe.

The Obama administration says it’s not interested in offering any reassurances or trades over the missile-defense system but instead is going to lay out U.S. interests and hope Russian leaders see places for cooperation.

“We’re going to talk about them very frankly, as we did in April, when we first met with President Medvedev,” said Michael McFaul, an adviser to Mr. Obama on Russian affairs. “And then we’re going to see if there are ways that we can have Russia cooperate on those things that we define as our national interests.”

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