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U.S., Russia agree to reduce nukes

- 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.

But American officials said they are not negotiating away the European missile defense site. Instead, they hope to convince Mr. Medvedev that the site cannot possibly be used against Russia.

Another area of disagreement is over the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia last year.

Michael McFaul, director of Russian affairs at the National Security Council, said Mr. Obama made clear the United States would never recognize the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both breakaways that Russia has recognized as independent states.

But Mr. McFaul said as part of his new strategy of trying to get past differences and focus on areas of agreement, Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev all sides can agree another flare-up of violence in the Caucuses is ill-advised.

Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Obama's talks in Moscow "left intact fundamental disagreements between the two countries, including the rights of post-Soviet states to sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"This includes Georgias and Ukraines territorial integrity and sovereignty. Russia and the U.S. haven't resolved the most thorny issues: missile defense and Iran," he said. "Russia has no interest in working on Iran with Obama, nor will it recognize that the U.S. missile defense is no threat to Moscow."

But former Sen. Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which works to reduce the danger of weapons of mass destruction, said the summit represented a critical re-engagement on arms control, and said the military-to-military cooperation the two leaders agreed to will help.

"This channel is critical for identifying new ways to increase launch warning and decision time, develop cooperative early warning and missile defense systems and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategies," Mr. Nunn said.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday visits with Mr. Putin, holds another meeting with Mr. Medvedev, speaks to summits of business leaders and civil society activists, and delivers a commencement speech at the New Economic School. In that speech, Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his challenge to Russia to stop seeing U.S. relations as zero-sum and start looking for areas where they can cooperate.

In the run-up to their meeting, Mr. Obama gingerly stepped into touchy Russian politics, telling a Russian reformist newspaper that new charges against two Russian businessmen were "odd." Still, he said, he supports Mr. Medvedev's efforts to fight corruption.

Mikhail Khodokrovsky and Platon Lebedev, two Russian businessmen already serving sentences for tax evasion convictions, face fresh charges.

"Without knowing the details, it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole," Mr. Obama told Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper whose columnist Anna Politkovskaya, a frequent government critic, was fatally shot in 2006.

In an interview with the newspaper Mr. Obama demurred when asked whether the Russian authorities should be pressured to apprehend her killer.

After the two presidents' meeting Monday, Mr. McFaul said Mr. Obama did not specifically raise Khodokrovsky in his talks with Mr. Medvedev but said it was "clear" whom the American leader was talking about when he pushed Mr. Medvedev to create a stable business environment.

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