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Obama and Medvedev announce framework for nuclear cuts

In Moscow, the presidents of the U.S. and Russia release a statement saying they had reached agreements on fighting terrorism, cooperating on Afghanistan and working toward reducing nuclear arsenals.

July 07, 2009|Christi Parsons and Megan K. Stack

MOSCOW — Stepping cautiously in their first summit meeting, President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed Monday on a framework to reduce their nations' nuclear arsenals and on steps to fight terrorism and cooperate on the war in Afghanistan.

The agreements had been expected as Obama kicked off a weeklong trip to Russia, the Group of 8 summit in Europe and Ghana. The two leaders also reached agreements to create closer cooperation between the militaries of the two countries, and to work together on the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.

At a news conference in the Kremlin, the presidents exchanged praise and heralded the summit, the first between the countries since early in the Bush administration.

"In reality, for our relations, it is very important and it is not a simple job because the backlog of problems is quite impressive," Medvedev said.

Obama agreed, complimenting his host.

"We must lead by example, and that's what we are doing here today," Obama said at the televised news conference.

Monday's talks and pledges of cooperation, however, could give way to old, apparently intractable differences when Obama meets with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for breakfast today.

The encounter is bound to raise awkward questions, foremost because, although Putin is widely believed to be Russia's top authority, he is no longer the president. Medvedev, a longtime associate of Putin's, is still regarded as the junior member of the duo.

In one of Monday's more diplomatic moments, Obama neatly sidestepped a question about how he saw Medvedev's relationship with Putin. "My understanding is, President Medvedev is the president and Prime Minister Putin is the prime minister," Obama said.

But still lingering is the sting of Obama's recent characterization of Putin as a Cold War throwback with "one foot in the old ways," a statement he unleashed just before leaving Washington. Russians have been waiting since to see how the notoriously steely premier will react.

"Definitely, Putin is not happy," Andrei Kortunov, head of the New Eurasia think tank, said Monday. "It was a pretty bold statement, and he was quite irritated."

Both Obama and Medvedev appeared intent Monday on keeping the tone upbeat and respectful. Obama began his visit by placing a wreath on Moscow's tomb of the unknown soldier -- a politically canny show of respect for the massive World War II casualties that continue to haunt Russia.

Later, Obama stood shoulder to shoulder with Medvedev, the two presidents looking youthful and friendly, deferring to each other's statements and pledging to make deep cuts to their nuclear arsenals.

"They sounded rather enthusiastic," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of Moscow's United States and Canada Institute think tank. "Which means they are sure they have done something big."

In contrast to Obama's other overseas stops, the White House hoped to use the Russia trip to cast the president as a tough-minded leader, not just a likable one. The United States wanted to enlist Russian support on a host of issues, including Iran and North Korea, both of which have nuclear ambitions.

Although the summit provided little drama, Obama at least will leave with some agreements in hand, including one to establish a framework for reducing the two countries' nuclear arsenals.

After the leaders met in London this spring, aides worked to hammer out details of disarmament pacts. The goal was to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires this year.

A deal could cut warheads from more than 2,000 to about 1,500 for each country.

Gary Samore, the White House point man on such weapons, has acknowledged that a major area of disagreement is the U.S. push for a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia considers that a direct challenge to its own defense. The United States views the missile shield and arms reductions as separate issues, Obama said at the news conference, whereas the Russians want them to be linked.

Monday's deals gave something to both sides, although leaving the details to be resolved later.

While the leaders avoided discussing their disagreements, they united in an effort to curb nuclear proliferation and the threat posed by North Korea and Iran, which are separately developing nuclear programs. Obama said he wants to hold a summit on nuclear security issues next year.

"The nonproliferation issue is the most important for our states," Medvedev said.

On Afghanistan, Russia agreed to allow its airspace to be used to transport supplies.

Other agreements included setting up a joint commission to try to account for missing service members dating to World War II and fresh cooperation on public health issues.

Both leaders said the most important achievement was a new spirit of working together.

"The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift," Obama said. "President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and rivalry of the past."

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cparsons@latimes.com

megan.stack@latimes.com

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