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A chill in air for Obama in Russia
Question of the Day
MOSCOW | Despite calling for an end to the Cold War mentality, when President Obama sits down with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday it may seem like the Cold War is still raging.
From the main issue - the two men will face off over nuclear-arms reductions - to the two publics, which dramatically distrust each other's leaders, it may seem like a throwback to the days of "The Hunt for Red October."
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev expect to produce some sort of framework agreement that would set the stage for eventually signing a treaty to reduce the number of nuclear warheads and delivery systems in each country's arsenal, a U.S. official said in the run-up to the meetings Monday.
"I expect that there will be an announcement," said Gary Samore, who handles White House policy on weapons of mass destruction.
The sticking points include how to count delivery systems - the U.S. has converted some former warhead systems such as several Trident submarines to conventional weaponry - and what to do about U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Medvedev adamantly opposes such plans, left over from the George W. Bush administration. In large part, Russian leaders don't believe the explanations that U.S. forces are now pivoting to handle other crises and are no longer focused on a zero-sum engagement with Russia.
"They are too far apart geographically. I do not understand how people can say that missile defense is linked to the problems of the Middle East," Mr. Medvedev told Italian press outlets RAI and Corriere della Sera. "Therefore, it seems to me that all these arguments have been developed simply to justify the decisions taken by the previous administration of the United States."
Still, both he and the Obama administration have signaled that a nuclear deal is possible if the U.S. can offer the right signals on the missile-defense site.
"From our standpoint, we think we have a very good argument that the current missile structure that we're looking at in Europe doesn't pose a threat to Russian strategic forces that would prevent them from reaching an agreement on further reductions," Mr. Samore told reporters in Moscow.
Mr. Obama told Russia's official news agency, ITAR-Tass, that getting an agreement to reduce nuclear weapons would send a message internationally "that we're moving into a new era, and we want to get beyond the Cold War."
Mr. Medvedev said he was "moderately optimistic" about prospects for the two nations' relations.
The visit is Mr. Obama's second to Moscow, but his first as president. He and Mr. Medvedev will spend hours together Monday, while on Tuesday, Mr. Obama will meet with Russia's former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
For Mr. Obama, the meeting finds him on unusual territory - he's visiting a country where the population is not enamored of him.
A survey conducted in May for the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that just 23 percent of Russians polled had confidence in Mr. Obama to act the way they want in international affairs - among the lowest ratings Mr. Obama has seen in international polling.
Americans are no more eager about Mr. Putin, who U.S. experts say is likely more powerful than Mr. Medvedev. Just 27 percent of Americans polled in late May and early June said Mr. Putin acts the way they hoped in international affairs.
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About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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