- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

LONDON | President Obama met for the first time Wednesday with the leaders of Russia and China - the two countries with the greatest ability to help or hurt U.S. strategic and economic objectives - and came away with an ambitious agenda for nuclear disarmament and economic cooperation.

With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Mr. Obama pledged to seek a new treaty slashing nuclear weapons and to work on issues ranging from Iran and North Korea interactions to developing clean energy and getting Russia into the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Obama accepted Mr. Medvedev’s invitation to go to Moscow in July, when the two sides hope to have made substantial progress on a replacement of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), due to expire in December.

U.S. and Russian officials said the aim is to reduce deployed nuclear warheads to about 1,500 each from the current limit of 2,200.

In a meeting later with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu agreed to “intensify coordination and cooperation on global economic and financial issues.”

They said they would establish a strategic and economic dialogue, hold the first meeting in Washington this summer, cooperate on counterterrorism and nonproliferation measures and broaden military-to-military ties.

Mr. Obama’s busy day — on his first overseas trip as president — also included meetings with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Queen Elizabeth II.

The diplomacy took place against a backdrop of protests in central London. About 4,000 protesters marched on the Bank of England to vent their fury at capitalism, bankers and the British government in advance of a meeting of 20 world economic powers.

Violence erupted when a mob stormed a Royal Bank of Scotland building, which had been closed for the day. Protesters smashed windows with metal poles and hurled computers into the street. Slogans such as “burn the banker” and “scum” were scrawled on the walls. The London Metropolitan Police said 32 people were arrested.

But most of the protesters campaigned with good humor. A group of teenage girls danced to a brass band as they held aloft an effigy of a suited banker, a mock noose around its neck. “Eat the banker,” read the banner, next to a bloodied, severed hand made of plastic.

The biggest achievement of the day for Mr. Obama was the meeting with Mr. Medvedev, after weeks of preparation, including visits to Moscow by senior U.S. officials who presented the Russian leader with a letter from the U.S. president.

The two leaders on Wednesday issued a far-reaching communique that promised a “fresh start” to U.S.-Russia relations.

“Over the last several years I think the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift,” Mr. Obama said after the meeting. “And what I believe we´ve begun today is a very constructive dialogue which will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties.”

Mr. Medvedev, who has been prickly at times about U.S.-Russia ties, was also upbeat.

“After this meeting, I look at the future of our relations with optimism,” he said.

A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters after the meeting cautioned that the communique was “an agenda and we don’t have any illusions about how easy it will be to get agreement on a lot of the things that are there.”

The official added: “We have to give President Medvedev credit, too, that this is not an ordinary document from their side. It started very differently several weeks ago. …

“That he got his government to engage in it in a very serious way and get it done in time for our meeting today I think is a statement of the possibilities in U.S.-Russian relations.”

The official also contrasted Mr. Obama’s approach with that of President George W. Bush, who stressed his personal rapport with Vladimir Putin while he was Russia’s president.

Mr. Obama’s “strategy is to develop an 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.” The official spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be named because of White House rules.

Toby T. Gati, a Russia specialist and former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, said the communique was “a great start.”

“I like it for a couple of reasons. It´s not totally about arms control. It’s not about the two presidents but about the two countries. It´s a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-to-work kind of document,” Mrs. Gati said.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev did not gloss over subjects of contention, notably a planned U.S. missile defense shield in Europe that Russia fiercely opposes, and differences over the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia last summer.

“There is an emphasis on mutual respect and tolerance for different views, which is significant in that the Clinton and Bush administrations often tried either to delegitimize Russian perspectives or to argue that the U.S. understood Russian interests better than Moscow,” said Paul J. Saunders, executive director of the Nixon Center.

“If the Obama administration is prepared to acknowledge legitimate differences, it could facilitate a more open and honest dialogue,” he said.

In terms of the main goal of achieving a new START treaty, Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said a bridging arrangement might be needed to cover any gap between the expiration of the current treaty in December and the ratification of a new pact.

He added, however, that a new treaty is both “doable and vital” because “we have excessive delivery system capacity and Russia is on a glide path to reducing nuclear arms.”

Franklin C. Miller, who was an arms control official in the Bush White House, said the results of the meeting were “a big deal” for the Russians. “Once again they are seen as an equal to America… . They become as important as we are and that’s important in their own eyes.”

Mr. Miller questioned what impact the warming relations would have on U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Eastern Europe.

“What are the Russians prepared to give in assurances, real action that they’re going to do something to cut the Iranian nuclear weapons program?” he asked. “If the Russians can’t come up with anything credible, Obama can’t delay this [missile defense].”

In the communique, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev said that “Iran needs to restore confidence in its [nuclear program’s] exclusively peaceful nature.”

In a sign of the challenges ahead in dealing with Iran, however, an Iranian deputy foreign minister who met Tuesday with U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke denied that the two had engaged in “talks.”

“Maybe this - the report on the meeting by the U.S. - indicates that the other party is hasty to take advantage of the conference,” Mehdi Akhundzadeh was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Akhundzadeh “had a brief and cordial exchange” on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan at The Hague. The State Department confirmed the meeting Wednesday.

• Barbara Slavin and Jon Ward contributed to this report from Washington.

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