The Washington Times - April 1, 2009, 04:25PM

Top advisers to President Obama today in London made clear that their approach to relations with Russia is going to be different than President Bush‘s.

“The goal is to advance our interests … The goal is not to have a personal relationship,” said a senior White House official who spoke to reporters in London on the basis that he not be named.


Bush famously said after meeting Putin for the first time in 2001 that he had been able to get “a sense of his soul” and found him “trustworthy.” That turned out to be not quite true.

The Obama advisers mentioned that incident specifically.

“If you go back and you remember the first Bush-Putin meeting where that famous quote came from, that was a conscious strategy on the Bush administration’s part to develop this personal rapport. Our strategy is different than that. Our strategy is to develop a agenda based on interests, also accentuating where we disagree, but not to make the goal of these meetings to establish some, you know, buddy-buddy relationship,” one of the two Obama advisers briefing the press said.

The Obama advisers also said that during their meetings with the Russians today the Kremlin officials had a “different tone” on whether Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons through enrichment of uranium. The Obama administration has said clearly that they believe Tehran to be doing so.

Up until now, one Obama official said, “they’ve always said Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon: ‘We have no evidence of that, show me that this is there.’ And this was a different tone than that.”

As for the nuclear arms treaty that was agreed to today by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, one former Bush administration official who was closely involved with arms control said one key issue will be how the two sides count nukes.

Most nuclear missiles are capable of carrying multiple warheads and delivering them to multiple targets, and there are different ways of counting what constitutes a nuclear weapon that is in the field. Often missiles don’t contain all the warheads they’re capable of carrying, and the 2002 Treaty of Moscow counts nukes “as actually loaded.”

The former Bush administration official said the Russians may want to count what each missile is capable of holding.

The agreement is not really needed by either side, the official also said, calling it “pr.” It helps the Russians because “they are seen as an equal to America.”

It helps the White House because it could soften up the Russians and make them more amenable to helping stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Up and until that point, Obama likely won’t be able to back off the missile defense system for Eastern Europe, which is intended to protect the region from a threat such as a nuclear-armed Iran.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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